One of the key tenets of Stoic Philosophy is determining what is and isn’t within your control. This principle, developed by the Greek philosopher and former Roman slave, Epictetus, suggests that one must let go of anything outside his or her control. What is outside your control? Basically everything. Examples include the behavior of your spouse, his or her nasty taunts or threats, how that spouse parents, court rulings and even the law. What is within your control? Very little in contrast. Examples include how you respond to events, your emotions, and the meaning you give to those events.
Too often I see clients deteriorate in response to their spouse’s conduct, often designed to torment them. People seek remedies from the court but those remedies are expensive and usually don’t stop the noxious conduct. Often, the only lasting remedy is to rearrange your perceptions of the conduct, which is all you can really control.
If you perceive your spouse’s conduct in the spirit it is intended, you will suffer, perhaps retaliate in kind, and live in misery. A domestic arms race will ensue wreaking havoc on your mental health, your dignity, and the welfare of the children. Mission accomplished! Yes it is unfair to have to tolerate such an asshole but life is unfair. Deal with it and don’t react.
As an alternative, consider treating the conduct as annoying background noise, like traffic or a barking dog. Remember the source and the intent of the perpetrator. Laugh at his or her immaturity rather than cry at your frustration. Your perceptions can be rearranged to make yourself impervious to the slings and arrows of an angry spouse.
Governing yourself and your emotions is not easy and take practice and strength, but the rewards are profound. To live your life with integrity and honor, despite your spouse’s venal behavior, is reward enough. But in addition, you can face your future with dignity and pride knowing that you grew as a human being as a result of the ordeal. This truly is the definition of a successful divorce.