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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The decision-making process involved in divorce : a critical incident study Proulx, Ginette M


The present research explores the process of coming to terms with the decision to divorce. The research was conducted with 20 women of North-American culture, divorced or separated a minimum of six months with no thought of reconciliation. The methodology employed retrospective accounts. A semi-structured interview using the critical incident technique pioneered by Flanagan (1954) was used to gather data. The subjects were asked to describe specific incidents which prompted them to reassess their marriage and eventually decide to separate or divorce. They were also asked to describe incidents which made it more difficult to come to that decision. A total of 175 incidents were collected illustrating a range of experiences which either precipitated or hindered the decision to separate or divorce. Using an inductive method of analysis, the data was organized in a classification schema consisting of three superordinate categories - feelings, cognitions, behaviours - and 33 subcategories. In addition, a summary of the marital problems highlighted in the critical incidents is provided, with examples of the marital dynamics involved. Finally, a four-stage model outlining the process of coming to terms with the decision to divorce was derived from the category system. The model focuses on the intrapsychic dynamics of the subjects in the decision-making process. The labels given to these stages are disillusionment, ambivalence, cognitive restructuring, and resolution. The findings of the present research are compared and contrasted to those of social exchange theorists (Albrecht & Kunz, 1980; Levinger, 1965), stage theorists (Duck, 1982; Kaslow, 1981; Ponzetti & Cate, 1988; Vaughan, 1979), and grief theorists (Crosby, Gage & Raymond, 1983, 1986; Wiseman, 1975). The issues raised in the present research are discussed from a gender role perspective, in light of the theories of Attanucci (1988), Eichenbaum and Orbach (1983), Gilligan (1982), Goodrich, Rampage, Ellman and Halstead (1988), Herman (1977), Lerner (1977), Miller (1976; 1983; 1984; 1986) and Rubin (1983). In conclusion, the category system and model delineated in the present research offer a comprehensive set of experiences of what facilitates and hinders the decision to divorce.

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