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Processes of Divorce


About the Processes of Divorce      A Case Study Example


About the Processes of Divorce

In the spring of 1984, Anisa Zvonkovic interviewed some of the couples who divorced relatively soon after they had married. These interviews were recorded onto audio tapes. The major areas of inquiry consisted of the temporal process of the marriage's dissolution and the reasons for the divorce. The interview consisted of questions pertaining to the following: respondent's current life situations, contact with friends and family, major life events, and inventories of their physical and mental well-being. In order to gain insight into the processes of divorce, each respondent constructed retrospectively a graph based upon the probability of divorce occurring, beginning with their wedding date until the divorce decree. Respondents articulated their reasons for the dissolution over time and also explained any changes in the levels of probability.

Additionally, data were collected during the telephone interview at Phase Four with divorced spouses. Each spouse was instructed to arrange cards (which had been previously mailed to them with their questionnaire packet) containing particular events on them, such as first separation or when they first began contemplating divorce, in the order that these events occurred during the period of their divorce. They were instructed to place aside any cards containing events that did not occur during the divorce process. Respondents were instructed to reveal the time period in which these events occurred, any other events happening around this time, their feelings at the time, their thoughts concerning why they think the events happened, and anything else they felt was important for us to know about at that time in their life. Their responses were recorded on audio tapes. This was another instance where the participant's voice and role in the interview process was elevated. This portion of the interview provided yet another opportunity for participants to voice their thoughts and feelings and provide unique insights into their relationships. It also allowed the researcher to explore the processes of these divorces at a much deeper level and to get closer to the actual experiences of the participants.

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A Case Study Example: Carson and Lisa

The trouble started when the family was planning a move to another state, and Lisa had suspicions that Carson was involved with another woman. As you may recall [referring to an earlier section of the case study], during their courtship, when Carson lost his job, he pulled away from her and started dating other women. Similarly, in their third year of marriage, unemployment again made him disgusted with his life and marriage, but he did not tell his wife. Perhaps another jobhunt was behind the family's planned move now. If so, Carson would likely have repeated his pattern of disaffection, closing himself off from Lisa. This would give Lisa grounds for her idea that he was sleeping with another woman. She began to think that divorce was a probable solution. When he moved, she did not go with him. She may have felt that she communicated her dissatisfaction and intent to him; if so, he did not understand it. Fully expecting his wife and children to join him, he found a house and began to put things in order. Lisa, meanwhile, began dating a new man "on the rebound." Soon after, she called Carson and told him their marriage was over and that she intended to keep the children. Carson was "distraught," especially over losing the children. Through all the years, he had been committed to Lisa because "she was the mother of my children." This was the impetus that drew them together, and was apparently a primary reason why they stayed together for so long. After a time, Carson got involved with a new woman, whom he would eventually marry. In May of 1990, Lisa and Carson officially divorced.

Both Carson and Lisa were characterized by a relative lack of animosity. Lisa seemed to lay much of the blame for the divorce on external factors, such as children, money, and the couple's separate involvements. Carson disagreed with all these reasons. In fact, he only agreed with her on two things: she had an affair and he was somewhat difficult to live with.

Lisa initially seemed very disillusioned by her marriage's unhappy end. She felt badly about the divorce,  but she pulled herself through it, gaining a great deal of independence and self-respect in the process. She met her second husband soon after the divorce and was very happy in her new marriage. Carson, however, seemed very confused about his loss. He remained attached to his ex-wife, mourning their "couplehood," and he always felt there was a chance they might get back together, even after he was dating his second wife. "You always have that glimmer of hope," he said. He seemed a little disappointed and ambivalent about his new marriage, and he did not include his stepdaughter on the list of children he considered part of his family.

In the end, it seems that Carson and Lisa were simply married on the wrong grounds. They were thrust into marriage without understanding one another very well, and without a good relationship structure to rely upon when problems arose. Lisa learned from her mistake, and remarried upon more emotionally mature grounds. Carson may not have learned the same lesson; he married a woman he met while he was still grieving, and it seems the circumstances that brought him and his second wife together are no longer sufficient to make him happy.


The PAIR Project at the University of Texas at Austin
Principal Investigator, Ted L. Huston
Page last modified: 15 January 2002