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Five Beliefs from the Ancient Stoics That We Can Apply to Divorce

Apr 29, 2021 | Written by: William J. Rudnik, Esq. |

Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in ancient Greece and continued in ancient Rome through Stoics such as Seneca, Epictetus, and the famous Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.  Like many forms of philosophy, we can learn from the Stoics and their teachings.  Some of the tenets of their philosophy can be applied directly to divorce cases.

1.  Worry about yourself and the things you can control, and accept what is outside of your control.

Stoics believe the only thing truly within one’s control is one’s mind.  Differentiating between what one can control and what one cannot control enables one to focus only on things one can control.  This can be applied to divorce situations.  While individuals going through divorce suffer through a variety of emotions, they must try to focus on what they can control, which is only their own thoughts and feelings.  They cannot control the court process, the judge’s decisions, or even their spouse or their spouse’s attorney.  They cannot even control their own children.  An individual going through divorce who can focus on their own thoughts and actions and accept what is beyond their control will have a much easier time getting through the divorce process.  While it is easier said than done, this philosophical belief is reiterated in modern day society, a version of what is known as the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”        

2.  Control your impulses and emotions; do not let emotions and impulses control you.

While Stoics strongly believe that one should accept what is outside of one’s control, they also focus on what is in one’s control, which is one’s mind.  One of the things a person can control is their emotions and impulses.  Impulses lead to behavior that is often regrettable, and allowing emotion to guide one’s thoughts, actions and decisions rather than using reason and logic results in actions and decisions that are often detrimental to oneself and others.  In divorce cases, emotions are very often on the surface.  Individuals going through divorce experience many extreme emotions, including guilt, sadness, and anger.  They often have impulses to act a certain way when dealing with their spouse or their children.  When an individual in a divorce case is making decisions or acting on emotion, it often results in the case dragging out, costing much more in attorney’s fees, and causing damage to both parties and any children involved.  While it is difficult to do while in the divorce process, it is of great benefit to keep one’s emotions and impulses in check during the divorce.  Taking a step back and trying to do things from a neutral viewpoint can often help to remove emotions from decisions.  Thinking twice before acting can prevent individuals from acting on impulse, regardless of how an individual is being treated by their spouse.

3.  Perceptions come from within and you can control them.

As part of the Stoic belief that you can control your own mind, you can control how you view things as well as how you react.  Someone cannot frustrate you because the perception of someone or their actions and the “frustration” comes from within you.  You have control of that.  In divorce cases, we do have control over how we perceive things.  Whether it is how the other party acts, how the attorney conveys things, or how the court decides issues, we control our thoughts and perceptions.  We can choose not to have an opinion, not to be frustrated and not to react in a certain manner.

4.  Prepare yourself in advance for negativity.

Marcus Aurelius, like many Stoics, believed in preparing oneself each day for any negativity one may face.  Be prepared to deal with individuals who are selfish and act based on emotion.  Preparing yourself provides two benefits:  1) you are not surprised when someone acts in that manner, as you have prepared yourself and you expect it; and 2) because you are prepared, you can act with patience, forgiveness and understanding in dealing with the individual who is negative, selfish and angry.  In divorce cases, this notion will serve you well.  It can even help divorce attorneys in dealing with their clients and their adversaries.  We must expect that in many divorce cases, the adverse party and sometimes the adverse attorney will be nasty, selfish, rude, and angry.  If we expect this, we are better able to deal with it, and in the event adverse parties are rational, reasonable, and understanding, it can be seen as an unexpected blessing.  However, if they are not, we should be able to deal with their negativity by being patient and understanding and not having a negative reaction that results in nasty letters back and forth and serves no purpose.

5.  Think before acting and before saying anything.

Stoics believe that we should use intelligence as our guide and think before acting.  This means not acting based on emotion, impulse, or other outside forces that are beyond our control.  Our actions should be based solely on our own mind after careful thought.  In addition, we should only speak once we are certain what we say is not better left unsaid.  Prior to speaking one should wait, prepare, and make sure that it is not simply an emotional, selfish, or ignorant reaction.  Unfortunately, in divorce cases the lack of restraint on actions and verbal responses is all too common.  Many restraining orders in these cases are based on situations where someone acted or spoke without thinking twice and later regretted it.  Unfortunately, technology and social media have only made this worse, as people can instantly respond even when the other person is unavailable, i.e., email or text message.  Rather than sending that email or text message, let it sit for a while.  Use your intelligence as a guide and make sure you are not acting out of emotion.  Make sure what you are saying is helpful and productive and is not simply going to result in continued back and forth that serves no purpose.  This advice will greatly help in a divorce.

Clearly, following Stoic philosophy can help parties in a divorce case by focusing only on what is within one’s control, by controlling reactions and emotions, by being prepared for negativity, and by thinking before acting.  Following these teachings will result in divorce being less stressful for the parties.


William J. Rudnik, Esq. is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC.  He is certified by the NJ Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Law Attorney.  In addition to handling divorce litigation, he is qualified as a Mediator in the field of Family Law under the New Jersey Court rules, and he is trained in Collaborative Divorce. Contact Mr. Rudnik at 908-735-5161 or via email.

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Any statements made herein are solely for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice.