When is so called love not real love and possibly destructive and not life giving? That is one of the hardest questions we struggle with as parents, as spouses and as human beings. True love should always be life giving, empowering and not destructive or enabling.
Sometimes, as people who seek to love and be loved in return, we struggle with this important human dynamic.
Some would say that loving means doing whatever for another, even if it is potentially hurtful or destructive. However, others would say that the tough side of loving is being careful not to enable destructive and lethal behavior. It is the capacity to say "no," even if it causes the person you love to be angry with you.
At times, real loving demands that we be tough but compassionate. We must be willing to be vulnerable and risk on behalf of another, even if they don't fully understand.
It is not about abandonment or turning one's back on another. It is about having the courage to do the hard things that sometimes cause tension and grief in relationships, but ultimately could save another's life.
Mr. & Mrs. K are well educated and a materially successful couple. They have been happily married for thirty-four years. They have four adult children and one still in college.
The three older children live on their own. The college student lives at home along with his twenty-five year old brother. All the children are college graduates. The last of the children is a senior at an Ivy League college. The twenty-five year old graduated from a prestigious college a few years ago.
The K family is very close. Each sibling is very successful in his own right. They are five boys who love their family and each other.
Mr. & Mrs. K feel that they have raised each of their boys in the same way, even though they acknowledge that each boy is different and is blessed with abundant gifts and talents.
As parents, they stressed the importance of family, sticking together and loving one another, no matter what. The boys were competitive throughout school, but always supported each other.
In college, each boy had his issues, but they all seemed to work them out without much fuss, except for TJ.
TJ was an excellent academic student and athlete in college, but he tended to drink too much. His drinking never impaired his schoolwork or his athletics, but it did impair some of his social relationships. Some of his peers wanted nothing to do with him. When TJ drank too much, he was really obnoxious.
He graduated from college unscathed. He got a great job immediately. He started to make excellent money. He bought all kinds of toys. He got a place with a college friend in the city. Unbeknownst to his parents, he was drinking heavily. Eventually, it cost him his job. At first, he lied to his folks. The truth came out when his second job was not fast in coming and he had to ask to move home.
After extensive conversation with his parents and his brothers, TJ was allowed to move back home. Needless to say, he promised to be an altar boy regarding his behavior.
Initially, he was a model adult son. He was home all the time. He pitched in. It seemed that his drinking was under control.
A few months passed and TJ lost his second job. Seemingly, he graduated from drinking hard liquor to experimenting with prescription drugs and liquor. He missed a number of important appointments due to that behavior. His employer terminated him.
His parents were kept in the dark about this firing and the pill use. He made up some lame excuses as to why he had lost his job. Mr. & Mrs. K believed him.
The next job was right up TJ's alley. It was sales. This new, young company loved him. He quickly moved up the ranks. He was starting to make a lot of money for a twenty-five year old. He was saving to move out. He was working long hours and had gotten very thin.
His Mom confronted him lovingly about his extreme weight loss. He blew it off.
He seemed to stabilize weight wise, but was becoming more irritable. Each time his parents confronted him, he had another excuse that was job related.
Three months later, his Mom being a Mom went into his room to put away some clothes she had washed. She opened up a drawer and found residue from coke and other coke use paraphernalia. At the time, she didn't have a clue what it was, but asked one of her older sons.
Mr. & Mrs. K were devastated. Again, they confronted TJ. He minimized the use and tried to blame a friend. As parents, they wanted to believe him and initially did, until he started not to get up for work. It got so bad that his boss started calling his home.
He finally broke down and admitted that he had a problem. He went into a detox program. Three days after discharge he relapsed. Since then, he has refused treatment. He says he can do it on his own.
His parents are waking him up for work, enduring his binges and his reckless behavior.
They finally reached out to a highly recommended and respected counselor who really confronted Mr. & Mrs. K with their enabling behaviors. They initially made all kinds of excuses for TJ and for themselves.
The counselor asked them if they wanted to go to their son's funeral. Of course, they said no. They said they could not practice "tough love" and throw him out. The counselor said he was not asking them to practice "tough love," but rather "real love" and urged them to stop enabling TJ, because his behavior was killing him.
TJ's Dad said, "he will lose his job if we don't help." The counselor said, "If you don't stop, you will lose your son, because he will be dead."