Impulsive Decision Making in Divorce

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When couples are in distress and on the brink of divorce, their sense of urgency can lead to impulsive decision making, which can then result in both unnecessary and damaging outcomes. Some couples jump to divorce (which should never be treated as an emergency), and others jump prematurely into couples therapy. Either way, the premature decision contributes to unnecessarily bad outcomes.

Impulsive Decision Making and The Premature Decision to Divorce

There’s good evidence to suggest that couples often choose to divorce prematurely. In the early 2010s, Bill Doherty, the founder of discernment counseling, did a study of couples whose divorce was already in legal system.1 He was interested to learn if these individuals were ambivalent about the divorce decision and if that ambivalence would lead them to consider reconciliation. The findings were striking:

  • One in four divorcing parents thought that their marriage could be saved.
  • Three in ten divorcing individuals expressed an interest in reconciliation services, and
  • In a shocking 11% of divorcing couples, BOTH partners thought the marriage could be saved.

The impulsive and premature decision to divorce is problematic in more than one way. Primarily, when a marriage or family is broken up unnecessarily, everyone suffers. But even in cases where the marriage ultimately ends, the rush to a decision can contribute to the antagonistic and emotionally charged process typical of so many divorces. When one or both partners are ambivalent about the decision, the process is just plain messier.

Impulsive Decision Making and The Premature Decision to Try Marriage Counseling

In what may be an honorable attempt to “work things out,” spouses may jump into couples counseling. In this situation, the goals of therapy are often ill-defined, and the spouses may have limited self-reflection on their own contributions to the problems of the relationship. What’s more, it is often the case that one spouse is far more invested in reconciliation than the other, and the less interested spouse almost always brings their ambivalence into the therapy room.

Half-hearted therapy is destined to failure. Sadly, couples who try therapy, but do not achieve meaningful change, often see this as evidence of a doomed relationship rather than a reflection of hastily starting therapy without a shared agenda for change. In the end, the attempt at therapy serves to weaken the relationship rather than strengthen it. What a tragedy! 


Discernment Counseling for couples on the brink of divorce


How Discernment Counseling Can Help You Avoid Impulsive Decision Making

Discernment counseling can be the perfect option for these couples. By engaging in this process, couples agree to make the divorce decision in a less impulsive way. Even more importantly, spouses gain a deeper understanding of a) what happened in the marriage to bring it to the brink of divorce, and b) each person’s contributions to the problems.

With this deeper understanding, couples gain clarity and confidence in the decision-making about the future of the marriage. They choose one of three paths: keep the marriage as it is and postpone a decision, move toward separation/divorce, or commit to an all-out effort in couples therapy to see if reconciliation is possible. Regardless of their choice, the insight and clarity gained through discernment counseling make the next steps proceed in a more focused and productive manner.

Ginny Wright, Ph.D.,
Ginny Wright, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Certified Discernment Counselor


Dr. Ginny Wright, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Discernment Counselor. Dr. Wright graduated with distinction in psychology from Duke University in 1986. Before starting her graduate studies, she spent a year working at a runaway shelter outside of Washington, D.C. She then earned her doctoral degree from the Child & Family Clinical Psychology program at Michigan State University and completed her internship at Children’s Memorial (now Lurie Children’s) Hospital in Chicago.  Prior work positions include staff psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and staff psychologist at the Child Protection Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Dr. Wright co-founded Drs. Lapporte, Wright & Assoc., PC in 1994.  She sees clients of all ages and works with individuals, couples and families. Specializations include: Discernment Counseling, child and adolescent psychology, family systems therapy, couples therapy, medical psychology and performance psychology.

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