• accounts;
  • conflict;
  • divorce;
  • marriage;
  • meaning;
  • symbolic-interactionist

Divorce often constitutes a dramatic transformation of a close, personal, and usually harmonious relationship into one that is deeply antagonistic and bitter. Explanations among family researchers typically focus on opposing material interests, the adversarial nature of the legal system, latent or manifest conflict in marriage, or psychological reactions to the pain of divorce. A broadly designed fieldwork investigation of divorce suggests an important dimension largely ignored by these explanations: the symbolic or cultural. This article describes the process by which a sample of divorcing subjects confronted and solved major interpretive dilemmas posed by virtue of the shared meaning they and those around them had of marriage. It shows that the ways in which they solved such dilemmas created an oppositional structure by which they subsequently effected divorce.