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Hiba Khatkhat Smiling on Phone.

Habits Of People Who Thrive In Relationships

You’ve probably heard this: “live life on life’s terms.” Sometimes people use this quote to justify living life passively. When you do this, you become overly accepting of life and don’t solve your problems. This isn’t the intention here. On the contrary, the quote is about moving through life with willingness rather than willfulness, honouring yourself while accepting there are things in the past you can’t change some things you can’t change right away. The public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be, from a psychological standpoint, one big exercise in willingness vs. willfulness. 

This week, we’re building on a previous post on Openness and Willingness to Change. In it, we focused on how to find willingness with your body when you’re stuck through exercises like Half Smile and Willing Hands. We’re taking this practice a step further and applying it to the context of relationships and connections. 

What’s Willfulness?

You’re probably familiar with what willfulness is. That feeling or reaction when you know you’re digging your heels in, throwing your hands in the air, rolling your eyes, or sitting on your hands. You’re stuck, and you can’t turn your mind. You are mentally, emotionally, and physically closed off in these moments. When you do this in relationships, you’re more likely to:

  • Disconnect from yourself (because yes, you can be willful with yourself, not just other people) 
  • Disconnect from others
  • Damage your relationships unintentionally: by controlling, avoiding, escaping, or exerting pressure
  • Have difficulty with finding compassion towards yourself and others
  • Be unforgiving of yourself and others in a rigid way (this is different than the forgiveness we talked about in this article)
  • Refuse to be part of life
  • Hold a grudge or be bitter
  • Deny being part of life and participating in it
  • Prioritize yourself only and dismiss others

The problem with this reaction is that you show up in a consistently stubborn way in your relationships. You’re uncooperative and rigid in your responses. When you’re willful, you don’t negotiate in relationships. Your focus is on winning and being right. 

As a result, there are fewer choices and options on the table. It prevents you from exploring solutions with other people, negotiating, and finding a middle ground. Because of this, your relationships have a feeling of insecurity, emotional codependence, and enmeshment (boundaries are blurry and unclear). You’re less likely to seek out and maintain meaningful connections. 

This willfulness is different from being determined or strong-willed - these are positive qualities in the service of your values and beliefs. They anchor you. 

What’s Willingness?

Willingness, on the other hand, is openness. It allows you to act in alignment with who you are and your priorities. All while balancing the health of the important relationships to you. 

When you’re willing, you:

  • Do what works and what’s needed in the moment/for the situation
  • Balance your needs and common needs
  • Show up wholeheartedly in your relationships and with yourself
  • Respond wisely
  • Commit to participating
  • Say yes to the mystery of life, the universe, and being alive

Ultimately, willingness is about connecting. Connecting is about being willing to give and receive wholeheartedly (reciprocity in listening, responding, and sharing). It’s a way of showing up generously in your constructive relationships (the healthy ones you want to keep). In the bigger picture, when willingness is practiced in relationships by everyone involved, it builds kindness, trust and safety.

How to Get Unstuck? From Willfulness to Willingness

Here are a few to add to your bag of skills in addition to the Willing Hands and Half Smile mentioned at the beginning.

  • Observe Your Willfulness

This is the ability to apply the mindfulness skill of observing to your experience. Observe your willful emotions, thoughts, body sensations, and behaviours. Observing is noticing or watching only, without words (as best as possible). This practice can be hard because you’re used to observing and describing WITH language. So it can be challenging to separate the words and only watch. If this is the case for you, try this step along with the next - name it.

  • Name Your Willfulness

Once you notice willfulness, you can label and describe it. It can be as simple as saying “this is willfulness” or”willfulness is here.”

  • Radically Accept Your Willfulness

Don’t get trapped in being willful about your willfulness! Fighting willfulness will increase it, and will keep you stuck longer. In turn, it becomes increasingly difficult for you to connect to your willingness. When you radically accept willfulness, you accept its presence. Acceptance is not agreement or liking. Acceptance is about what exists at the moment. 

  • Half Smile with a Visualization

If you have a hard time with half-smiling on your own, try it with visualization. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and your attention. Bring to mind the picture of the Mona Lisa or Buddha Half-Smiling.

Half smiling buddha

Once the image is clear in your mind, notice yourself half-smiling or your body feeling more open. An alternative option is to keep a physical reminder with you. The Buddha picture above is a reminder in my physical space for times when I get stuck.

Reaping the Fruits of Willingness

You become more receptive to life and people when you shift into willingness. In relationships, when you’re more willing to negotiate, you become more open to giving and receiving feedback. You become more flexible and less rigid. More adaptable to changing situations. You can grow and evolve. And so do your relationships. 

You can be freer with yourself. In turn, this internal freedom is reflected in your relationships through your behaviour. So you show up at ease with others while being grounded in who you truly are. This consistency in the core of who you are brings more stability to your relationships and, therefore, more fulfillment and satisfaction. 

Take a moment this week to bring more willingness into your life with yourself and others. Remember, the focus is on cultivating meaningful, healthy, non-toxic connections you crave. So, before you apply these principles, take a moment to ensure it's in service to the healthy relationships you want to keep. 

If you’re wondering about communication skills for relationships that you can pair with willingness, check out this related post, The Wisdom of Making Mistakes, for Tips on Listening, Sharing, and Responding in Relationships.

This week, let’s add a fun way to bring our intention into practice with an accountability buddy. Connect with me (below) to share your reflection about:

  • How you can apply willingness to a situation that you’re stuck in
  • What obstacles might come up as you do this
  • How willingness could expand your options when it comes to making decisions

I’ll personally read and respond to each of you. So, it may take a few days.

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Hiba Khatkhat

Hiba is a holistic psychotherapist specializing in trauma, couples treatment, and culture. She's passionate about solving mental health crises by practicing prevention. She brings over 18 years of experience working with individuals, couples, & families in her private practice. She is known for her work on the transmission of trauma and its impact on relationships.

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