Skip to Content

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

May 4, 2021 | Written by: William J. Rudnik, Esq. |

My last blog focused on five specific teachings from the Stoic philosophy that could be applied to divorce cases.  Here are five more that are helpful when dealing with a divorce.

1.  Circumstances have no care for feelings.

A situation does not care about your reaction to it. Your anxiety, frustration, anger or even excitement has no impact on the situation. As a result, most of the time our expression of our feelings does not make the situation any better or any worse, and really serves no purpose.  In divorce cases, many situations and circumstances can cause significant reactions. It may be a circumstance relating to the other party, the children, or even the court. Whether we stomp our feet, jump up and down, scream and yell, or display any other feelings, it has no impact on the situation. Most of the time outbursts of emotion do not make us feel any better either. While it is difficult to do, it is best to keep our emotions and reactions in check, as not only do they have no impact on the situation, they also do not help us or make us feel better about the situation.

2.  You cannot always get what you want.

Stoics believe in focusing on what you need and not focusing on getting everything you want. Focusing on trying to get everything you want will not only result in disappointment but it may also result in you getting nothing because you are trying to focus on too many things. Our needs are much different from our wants, and focusing only on what we actually need can help us to obtain what we need. This is something that is often discussed in divorce cases by judges, mediators, and divorce attorneys. The focus should be on what parties need from the divorce, not necessarily what they want. Parties will want things that are simply not possible in a divorce case, such as a reconciliation with their spouse or having their child all the time. A client may want an amount of support to allow them not to work, but what they need is enough support, in addition to what they earn from their own employment, to allow them to pay their bills. As corny as it may sound, to quote the Rolling Stones, "you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need."  Focusing on needs and not wants will prevent disappointment. This is also a good rule for attorneys to manage client expectations about what they will ultimately end up with in the divorce. Very few, if any, parties are happy at the end of a divorce case.  It is often said a good settlement is one in which each party is equally dissatisfied, but they can live with it.

3.  Others try to do the right thing as they see it.

Stoics believe that it is extremely rare for someone to believe they are doing wrong. Almost everyone acts in a manner that they believe is right, even if that is not actually the case based upon an objective viewpoint. As a result, we should view decisions and actions made by others as being what they believe is correct or the right thing to do, rather than taking a view that they are intentionally trying to cause harm. This is difficult for parties to do in divorce cases. They often view the other party as making decisions simply to harm them. They view the other party as wanting parenting time not simply because they love their child and they want to spend as much time with them as possible, but as a way to take away from the other party's parenting time. Most of the time, each party is actually doing what they believe is right. While a party does not have to agree with what the other party does or the decisions they make, it provides a different perception and understanding to consider that the other party is doing what they think is right. Taking this viewpoint and perception in divorce cases allows us to be more understanding and forgiving, and avoid reacting in a selfish or emotional manner.

4.  Seek an indifferent spectator.

Stoics believe we should have a great and noble person we can allow into our minds and use to guide our actions, even when that person is not physically present. This can be an actual person or it can be someone like an indifferent spectator who can stand witness to our behavior. Some people use an actual person they know and respect, a deceased friend or relative, or even a person they do not know. How would that person guide you? What would he/she think of your decision or reaction to something?  This is like the old cartoons where there would be a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. Stoics believe in listening to the angel and ignoring the devil. In divorce cases, if parties can have a role model or can follow the advice of a role model, even if their role model is not present, it can only help in their decisions. If they listen to the angel on their shoulder and do what is right, it will not only help to bring a resolution to the case, but it will also help them and their children. They will also feel better about themselves knowing they did the right thing from an objective viewpoint, even if they feel the other side is listening to their little devil.

5.  Anger is toxic; it can be a trap and a weakness. By contrast, kindness is always the right response.

The Stoics believe that anger is a mistake and a weakness. Often it can be a trap that someone laid for you, expecting a reaction. The typical response to anger is anger.  Strength is the ability to maintain a hold of oneself.  The nearer to a calm mind, the closer an individual is to true strength.  The Stoics also believe kindness is always the right response and kindness cannot be defeated. Anger is a very common emotion in divorce cases. If individuals can stay calm in a divorce case, it will not only help to move the case forward but it will help them make decisions based upon logic and reason rather than emotion.  In responding to anger, kindness can completely disarm the other party or the other attorney.  A kind response to an angry tirade often forces the angry individual to look at his/her anger and feel embarrassed.  Angry individuals are often expecting an angry response, and when met with kindness they simply do not know how to react other than to feel silly. In divorce cases where both parties treat each other with kindness, the cases settle very quickly without costing a lot in attorneys’ fees and without the stress many parties complain about in divorce cases.

Following these Stoic beliefs will not only help us in our daily lives, but it will help us through stressful situations such as a divorce. Focus on what you need, try to see the other party’s viewpoint, and do not react with anger. Try to always do the right thing and follow the angel's advice, not the devil's.


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.

If you have a suggestion for a future blog topic, please feel free to submit it via the Contact Us form.

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