Although Hollywood love stories seem to center around surprise flower arrangements and last minute lavish vacations, even the sappiest rom-coms often depict some sort of external relationship challenge a couple must conquer in order to be together. Whether someone needs to cross literal distance to meet their love of there's some unfinished family business standing in the way — sometimes, love conquers all means lovers doing all the work. But apart from princesses in towers or ancient feuds between parents, what does it mean to fight for your relationship? And does it always include music playing and slow motion running?
Although any type of "fighting" may make you picture knights and gladiators, according to Dr. Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of 'The Kurre and Klapow Show,' fighting for your relationship actually means putting down all your defenses. "Fighting for the relationship means putting down you guard, your psychological armor, your traditional ways of thinking and asking yourself (and your partner) what needs to happen for the relationship to be successful," Dr. Klapow says. "It may come down to a decision between what you want for yourself and what the relationship needs." As Dr. Klapow shares, fighting for your relationship can mean embracing some major vulnerability and facing some hard truths about wants and needs.
"The biggest challenge is deciding once you are in that vulnerable state if you can provide what the relationship needs," Dr. Klapow says. "Do you have the desire, courage, and ability to make the changes? Are you willing to compromise, change, and adjust? Does fighting for your relationship mean you compromise personal values, goals, hopes or dreams?" If you just landed your dream job in a state nine hours away or your partner is realizing they're not super into penetrative sex anymore — fighting for your relationship may mean dealing with some major changes in a vulnerable way. Though it may seem the biggest fight is the literal problem you're having with a boo, as Dr. Klapow says, when fighting for love, the real challenge can be getting clear on what you want and what you are willing to do in order to move forward.
If you're dedicated to making the relationship work, Dr. Klapow attests, sometimes big dramatic moments may be necessary (cue: "I Will Always Love You" playing from a mountain top). "Changing a work schedule, putting a career or education or a family on hold, moving or relocating. These more major shifts can occur." Although dramatic changes or public declarations can be useful (and totally romantic) Dr. Klapow acknowledges the power of smaller daily actions when fighting for love. "It is rare that only the 'big events' help save a relationship," Dr. Klapow says. "It is always the smaller actions with intermittent larger ones that comprise the fight to save the relationship."
Though movies often show one grand romantic gesture or a single screaming from the rooftop moment, according to Dr. Klapow, smaller everyday actions are often behind major relationship improvements. "Fighting for a relationship is typically a process of fundamental changes in the relationship that happen in small ways over a long period of time," Dr. Klapow says. "From communication styles, to daily priorities, to daily interaction styles, to daily schedules — so often, growing the trust, love, admiration and respect that are often lost when a relationship is running out, means doing small actions very day consistently." If your partner has felt a little ignored since you switched jobs or you realize you need more daily communication — establishing a nightly texting schedule or a weekly date night could be a great way to create new daily patterns. Even the happiest relationships can take daily work, and finding little ways to make your boo feel supported everyday can be a great step in making your love thrive.
Of course, no matter the size of the action, Dr. Klapow shares the importance of direct and honest communication while fighting for your love. Being on the same page about where the relationship is headed, and what you and your boo both need to feel supported, is one of the biggest steps you can take in revitalizing your relationship. "No matter what, it comes down to communication. Learn to talk with one another even when talking may not feel natural or right," Dr. Klapow says. "Remember that your partner’s personal issues, your own issues and the relationship itself all drive the emotional setting. Express your concern, ask what is going on, and express your desire to make things better. You won’t know until you talk."
While fighting for love may seem like a super dramatic singular action, getting through major relationship conflict can mean lots of smaller conversations and applied daily actions. Of course, if you're starting to feel like your needs are changing, or if your relationship isn't making you as happy as it once did, it is also OK to check in with your partner or to take some time to think. If you're noticing some distance with a boo, but are dedicated to making it work, having vulnerable and honest conversations can be a great way to find out what you both need. At the end of the day, fighting for a relationship can look different for everyone, but sometimes being vulnerable is the most valiant thing you can do.