Decision Making in Divorce Therapy: Cost-Cost Comparisons
Oz, Sheri, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy
Many clients enter therapy with the specific goal of coming to terms with a particular dilemma concerning divorce which has them stuck and unable to decide. Some of the decisions involve whether or not to divorce in the first place, how to handle the process of reaching a settlement, what to do about postdivorce conflicts, level of relationship with the ex-spouse's extended family, and, of course, decisions about new romantic involvements and possibly remarriage (Everett & Volgy, 1991). Common to all these decisions is the fact that, although individuals make them, they directly affect and are affected by the ex-spouse, the children, and members of the extended families, among others.
Recently, the literature has begun to consider the decision-making process with respect to divorce, not only how couples decide on their own to divorce (e.g., Kalb, 1983; Strube & Barbour, 1984), but also how therapists can help couples make the many decisions that arise (e.g., Donovan & Jackson, 1990; Everett & Volgy, 1991; Salts, 1985; Turner, 1985).
Given that most decisions during the divorce process are made under conditions of stress, a workable model is desired which would allow the therapist to optimize the client's selection of the most appropriate option available. Janis and Mann (1977; see also, Wheeler & Janis, 1980) have provided such a model (e.g., Donovan & Jackson, 1990; Turner, 1985). The balance-sheet procedure, their central tool, entails listing the pros and cons of each alternative option. This is a cumbersome, time-consuming procedure in an otherwise effective decisionmaking strategy. Furthermore, consideration of the benefits of a given alternative has been shown not to contribute in any way to competent decision making (Gollwitzer, Heckhausen, & Ratajczak, 1990). Moreover, every benefit that can be listed under one alternative can be reworded as a cost under the opposite alternative
When clients enter therapy, they have often already weighed the positive aspects of remaining in the marriage versus those of ending it. They may be stuck precisely because they want to secure the benefits of both options without having to pay the costs of either. Others may engage in a "yes, but" activity: I want my freedom but I am afraid of being alone; I want to be loyal to my spouse but I don't want to give up the emotional high I have with my lover. These are values conflicts, not problems of choosing among neutral alternatives. Keeney (1988) claims that the implications of the alternatives in terms of values are what make decisions so difficult and/or imperative.
In view of these limitations, a modification of the cost-benefit analysis is proposed, that is, a cost-cost comparison. This is a time-effective and simple intervention which has the added advantage of clarifying the client's own values positions, thus enabling him or her to make a workable decision from within the framework of his/her value system. This intervention will be described and three case examples will illustrate its application.
Two or more alternatives to a particular dilemma are listed on a blackboard or flip-chart in the therapy room, and the therapist helps the client make a list of the possible costs of implementing each alternative. Whether or not it seems probable that the client will have to incur a specific cost is irrelevant--all possible costs that come to mind are listed in a procedure similar to brainstorming. The therapist is free to add any costs he or she may think of. Many clients interject comments about why one alternative is desirable; the therapist responds, "That is a benefit, we are considering only the costs." In order to ensure that the list is as exhaustive as possible, when the client has no more to add, the therapist prompts the client with questions such as: "Who else might be affected/not approve?" "How else might this make life difficult for you?"
Once the lists are complete, each cost is considered for the value it represents. …