A New Marriage Contract on Dignity

Recently, I had an interview with Donna Hicks on my radio show Dialogue on Divorce. We discussed the importance of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt as a means to restore dignity to your relationship. Some of the elements of dignity are wanting to have your identity accepted, wanting to feel a sense of acknowledgment, recognition, inclusion, the need to be understood and as I said earlier, wanting to be given the benefit of the doubt and finally just to be apologized to, for people to take accountability and take responsibility for the way they hurt you.

If married couples can agree to these building blocks of dignity and recognize that dignity takes a blow when our identity is trashed for some reason, when someone puts us down or criticizes us for who we are.  That is the real blow.  When we’re misunderstood, when we’re not included, when we’re feeling like we’re being treated unfairly, all these things are provocative behaviors that can lead to a breakdown in the relationship. Donna explained neurologists now believe that these emotional psychological blows register in the brain with the same impact as a physical attack. They must be taken seriously and not be easily dismissed, because they do as much damage as physical abuses. It’s important to know that dignity is such an important concept to be honored in a relationship and to know also that when any of these elements are violated, the relationship is the first thing to go. Trust is shattered.

A good way to work around these blows is to take time and not respond immediately. Even taking 90 seconds to respond to a blow to your dignity can help reframe the situation in a less damaging way, and allow you to not attack your partner back. Pushing the pause button this way can allow you the time to look back to when you acknowledged your partner for their strengths and supported them, and they did the same for you. Those feelings can certainly come back to your relationship, but it’s important to start looking for them again and put them into practice before it’s too late. For more information on these dignity reframing and strengthening exercises, read Donna Hicks’ book Dignity: The Essential Role it Plays in Resolving Conflict, and be sure to check out this episode of Dialogue on Divorce–Dignity in Conflict featuring Donna Hicks.