It is the same with romantic love. It is natural to want to nurture your partner, and to feel sorry for their suffering, but building a healthy relationship requires more than this. The trouble is that centuries of love stories and popular songs have implanted some ideas about the nature of true love that need to be challenged.
Two songs illustrate this. Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man tells us that “it’s hard to be a woman”, “he’s just a man”, and the only way to show him love is to be a long-suffering, self-effacing doormat. The other is Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix, which tells of a man whose beloved woman pushed him too far, causing him to shoot her down, poor guy.
True love involves loving your partner, but from a position of equality, loving and respecting, yourself. You teach people how to treat you by what you accept. Also, you are sufficient, and complete, even when you are alone. Song lyrics like “I can’t live, if living is without you” are hyperbolic nonsense, encouraging people to give away their power.
You must find a balance between soft love and tough love. Sometimes, you have to withdraw your affection, or stand up for yourself, for the long-term good of everyone in the relationship. This can be difficult when you love someone whose past experiences cause you to feel sorry for them.
Pity and the urge to be a rescuer do not really help the loved one, and can actually be disrespectful. The implication can be that he or she cannot help their bad behaviour because they have been broken by their negative experiences.
“I am the stronger partner, and can forgive, and withstand, anything, due to my superior ability to love. This will heal my lover, and they will regret hurting a saint, and will change, and be grateful for my love.”
If you truly love someone, show them respect by encouraging them to take responsibility for their reactions and behaviours. Encourage them to own, and work through, their issues, and be supportive, but not a victim.
An example of tough love in practice is what the parents of a drug addict often have to do. When loving support and kindness have failed, and they are being abused – property stolen, disruptive behaviour, exploitation and threats – the kindest response is to withdraw.
It might be heartbreaking to ignore their tears and pleas, agony to know that they are putting themselves at risk, and terrifying letting go even if there is the possibility that they could die. However, you would do this because it has been shown that addicts need to be allowed to hit rock bottom, and experience despair in order for them to take control, to decide to get clean, and to rediscover self-respect.