In my favorite disney movie, Mulan, there is a scene in which the main characters march off to war singing about wanting a girl worth fighting for. They are looking for motivation to carry them through the difficulties they are about to endure. I have decided that this simple disney moment has hit on what is at the heart of the most successful relationships. The willingness to fight for your partner, for your bond, your future.
If you look around at the most successful couples you know and compare them to the ones who have fallen apart or who are unhappy you may be surprised to find that on the surface they share similar issues. As a professor of Human Communications I have learned and teach that in most cases the difference between success or failure in a relationship is not what you are fighting about but how you are fighting about them. Good communication is at the core. And while I believe this is true, in my personal experience and observation I have come to the conclusion that it goes even deeper than this. The strongest happiest couples I know are ones where they are willing to fight not just with each other, but for each other.
Please understand that I am not referring to physical altercations, this is not a suggestion that you get into a bar fight over your girlfriends honor. I am talking about the courage it takes to be vulnerable and put yourself on the line emotionally; knowing you could be terribly hurt but risking it anyway. In a good partnership we are able to take turns doing this; recognizing that the one we love is unable to be the strong one at this moment and we have to step up to the plate and carry the weight.
One of the most concrete examples of this may be when the two of you are struggling to work through a very rough patch and you can see the one you love pulling away, getting ready to run. The words are on their lips, the keys are in their hands. At this moment you have a choice; protect yourself from being vulnerable or hurt and let them go, or risk rejection and fight for them. Let them know that you will do what it takes, you will be the strong one while they are feeling weak. Tell them you want them to stay. Fight for them.
We may believe that a person is playing games with us, or that the end is inevitable, perhaps we consider ourselves weak and pathetic if we put ourselves on the line. I would suggest however, that it is just as possible the one running simply believes they are out of options and would give anything to have someone show them another way. Remember that when you opt not to fight for someone, the result is that they feel dismissed, to their core. Apathy is so much more painful than anger
Sometimes the situation is more subtle than that. Ask yourself what do you do when your partner seems less satisfied overall, less engaged. Do you decide you better protect yourself from possible future rejection and pull back yourself? Do you say, hey, if they aren’t going to give it their all then I am not either? If this is your typical reaction, I simply ask that you think about what might happen if you responded instead by reassuring them, giving them reason to believe in the strength of your connection? Think back over your relationship and ask yourself if they have ever done that for you when you were less than sure. It is simply not possible for one person to carry the emotional burden of keeping love strong. It must be shared, each one taking on the job when the other cannot.
Equally important is what lens you look through when you see your loved one. Is it your feelings, your heart, your gut reaction to who they are and what they mean to you that shapes what you see? Or are you instead influenced by how others see them? Do you love them more when others admire them and think they are worthy? Do you find it harder to tap into your feelings when others disapprove or put them down? The truth is, fighting for someone means that you love them and have their back based on what you see in them, not what the world sees. No one can survive that kind of scrutiny long term. The strongest of couples understand that sometimes you love “even though” and sometimes you love “especially because”
I am aware that when we choose the safer easier road, it is not because we are bad people or incapable; it is because we have been hurt and broken in the past. Over the years we have learned that it is better to pro-actively protect ourselves than risk being vulnerable. Short term it is an effective strategy; but long term it results in a life without anything of real substance. Look around you and notice what in your life you have obtained that brings you the most satisfaction? My guess is that the items and accomplishments on that list were not things easily gained. They were what you risked the most for, fought the hardest to obtain.
One final thought, this is not an essay about how to become “worth fighting for” because each and everyone of us has that potential. It is instead a reminder to pick partners with enough courage to fight for you and for you to be with people you are willing to fight for as well. At the end of the day it really is just the two of you, be brave. I have faith, I will find the person who thinks I am a girl worth fighting for.