What is willingness? The dictionary definition might be something like “the quality or state of being prepared to do something, readiness.” In the context of Navigating Women’s Roles, we also use the concept of willingness that comes from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
In DBT, willingness refers to recognizing the reality of the situation and being an effective problem solver. It is the opposite of fighting what is happening and refusing to tolerate the facts around you (T6: Willingness, n.d.).
Another definition is “an individual’s response to a situation in which they do what is required or will be effective in finding a solution. … Essentially, it is an individual’s ability to go with the flow, the radical acceptance of a situation, and choosing to participate in the solution” (Willingness vs Willfulness, n.d.).
Menninger (n.d.) uses hitting balls from a pitching machine as a metaphor for willingness: “Like the pitching machine keeps throwing balls at you, life throws reality at you. You need to keep your eye on the ball to hit it and swing. As each ball comes, focus on giving it your best shot. Willfulness, crying, defiance or denial does not stop the ball. If you stand in the way of the ball, BAM!, the ball hits you. You will not hit any balls if you stand there doing nothing. Ignoring the ball does not make it stop coming. Willingness is taking your best swing at the ball.” He also uses the metaphor of life being like a game of cards, accepting and making the best of what life deals you.
As we can see, willingness is closely connected with acceptance, along with taking action to do “what works”—not denying the reality of a difficult situation and not refusing to do anything at all.
In a marriage relationship, this might mean accepting the relationship as it is – accepting yourself, your spouse, and the quality of your relationship—while at the same time looking for insight into things you can do to positively impact the relationship.
Doing what works often involves simple things that are within everyone’s reach. These seemingly small actions can have very positive effects:
- Say “I’m sorry”
- Do a little extra for your spouse
- Say “please” and “thank you” (every time!)
- Be generous
- Go more than half-way (marriage works best when each partner gives 100%)
Trying to “fix” things is often an attempt to avoid unpleasant emotions or situations. “I shouldn’t have to put up with this!” or “This isn’t how things should be!” might be the rallying cry. This is the opposite of willingness, “willfulness”. Not everything can be “fixed” or changed, especially in the short term. Making the marriage relationship better often involves first acceptance, then willingness to take small steps ourselves to have a positive impact.
Menninger, B. (n.d.). Willfulness. DBT Self Help. https://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/willfulness.html
T6: Willingness vs Willfulness. (n.d.). Dialectical Behavior Therapy. https://dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com/distress-tolerance/willingness-vs-willfulness/
Willingness vs Willfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). (n.d.). My Clients Plus. https://www.myclientsplus.com/blog/willingness-vs-willfulness-in-dialectical-behavior-therapy-dbt