EXCERPT: Michele Lowrance's 'The Good Karma Divorce'

Read an excerpt from Lowrance's book about achieving an amicable divorce.

ByABC News via logo
September 28, 2009, 2:27 PM

Jan. 6, 2010— -- In her new book, Michele Lowrance, a domestic relations judge who has gone through a divorce herself, draws from her personal and professional experiences to guide her readers through the steps necessary to achieve a "Good Karma Divorce."

After reading the excerpt below, head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.

How did I end up in this nightmare? I am a stranger to these dark emotions now living inside me. Who am I? When did I cross over the line, and will I ever cross back?

From across the bench I hear the whispers from their hearts. Beneath the fluorescent glare, the parties appear hostile, their arms tightly folded as if in straitjackets. A deputy stands behind them, menacingly, with a gun. These two people, who had once flirted, courted, and exchanged wedding vows, now seem to regard each other as kryptonite. I can see their hands trembling; my black robe often has that effect. Each comes to court with an agenda. Each seems determined to achieve vindication by convincing me of the other's loathsomeness. Then, and only then, can they ensure that the court punishes the guilty party for the personal wreckage they suffered. With the steam of hatred coming off their bodies like smoke from a greasy hamburger, they will attempt to raise children together.

I have been a judge in Domestic Relations Court in Chicago since 1995. For two decades prior to that I had sharpened my skills as a divorce attorney, but then I gave up being a warrior for the "right side," because it became clear to me that there was no right side in a divorce. Like "an eye for an eye," the only thing that happened in the end was that everyone was left with no eyes. As a survivor of divorce, my goal was to get through to this couple, and the thousands just like them, before they took the next step forward. How could I implore them to alter their perception of their divorce and of each other? Was there a way to restructure this heartbreaking life template that was being continually played out before me? If I could answer these questions, their lives might be affected positively. After years of experience, the answers to these questions have come into sharp focus, and the results are more profound than I could have ever expected.

What did I want for this couple? I wanted them—a husband and wife who had damaged each other, who had even devastated each other—to realize their anger would destroy them and infect every aspect of their future. I wanted them both to realize that this was what was happening. It finally struck me: they did not yet realize this. They had no idea of the extent to which their anger and resentment would injure those around them, as it damaged their own hearts, souls, and destinies. They had relinquished their strength by relying only on their attorneys and the court system to determine their future, oblivious to their own power over this potentially treacherous divorce process. There, in that forty-foot-square courtroom, this couple would either fuse with their anger, resentment, and bitterness or follow a path leading to peace through wisdom, understanding, and eventually forgiveness. They were facing a fork in the road that would change their lives forever. My early experiences have dominated my personal and career choices. Though I was not even three, I vividly remember hearing my parents speaking from the next room in a Miami hotel. They were getting a divorce and had just confessed to each other that neither had any interest in raising a child. "I don't want her," was followed by, "I don't want her either." I burst into their room and with angry tears said, "I don't want you either!" My mother and father were very young when I was born, and of course I didn't understand the stresses of being young parents— I just thought I wasn't worth sticking around for.

I don't need Freud to crawl out of his grave to explain why, when I sense trouble or abandonment in a relationship, whether real or perceived, I pull out the old familiar menu. The appetizer consists of creating emotional distance. By the entrée, I'm gone. My defenses, minted at an early age, are alive and well, and even though I understand this, I have overcome my history only with considerable effort and experience. Often a couple in my courtroom is fighting over who gets the children— unlike my parents, who were fighting over who wouldn't. In the end, the result is the same: neither couple is in the right mood to raise a child.

Divorce leaves its imprint in some way, but must it define and determine your future? Must you step into the old story line and be smothered by a gray quilt of annihilating perceptions?

There is inner pain: "I am a failure." "I wasn't able to keep my marriage together." "It's my fault; I should have tried harder." "I can't protect my children from the pain they are suffering, because I feel too depressed." "My marriage was how I defined myself in relation to the world—so who am I now?"

There is anger directed outward: "I can't believe how badly you're behaving." "You ruined our lives." "You aren't the person I married." "I should have known you'd do something like this." "How low of you to drag the kids into this." Attachment to these story lines promotes a claustrophobic inability to imagine a positive exit from your union. This leaves little room for any ending other than one tinged with resentment, bitterness, and even hatred.

In some Asian philosophies, a destructive event or experience is often considered the prerequisite to the attainment of enlightenment. The crisis presents the opportunity to remove a blockage impeding your life's purpose. A Japanese proverb says, "My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon." Believe it or not, sadness and even despair can have a positive effect, if those feelings ultimately loosen your attachment to a relationship that cannot bring you lasting peace and happiness. There's more than one story in every divorce, and there's room for more than one ending, if you make the effort with—or even without—your partner.

Too often, people think that being nasty, losing trust, acting angry, and feeling disappointed are as necessary to the process of divorce and separation as getting wet is to swimming. That view is reinforced by society throughout popular culture—in newspapers, on television, and in movies—everywhere divorce is depicted. But I believe we can create a culture in which divorce and separation, although absolutely not desirable, may be looked upon as an opportunity for transformation. Just because you're divorcing, your spouse isn't going to evaporate and cease to be. Particularly if you have children, this person will likely remain in your orbit and continue to walk the same earth you inhabit. You may think you are permanently leaving your spouse behind as you move forward into the next phase of your life, but the truth is that nothing—and no one—really gets left behind in an absolute way.

All of your shared experiences with your spouse—from tears of joy to tears of sorrow—make an indelible mark on your soul like a handprint in wet cement, whether you want them to or not. There are billions of people on earth, but you will come into contact with only a handful of them and have deep relationships with just a few of those. If you see yourself as a planet, whoever comes into your life is part of your solar system. A spouse with whom you share your life, for however long, is a major part of that solar system. Pain and suffering result when you tell yourself that the memory of your former spouse has no significance in your current life. The soul and the heart both know better, and in this tug of war peace may be elusive. Even long after you separate and divorce, this person and you will share a certain gravitational pull, and any children you have together will be permanent fixtures in your shared solar system. You can't fight that, and you may not be able to quiet the negative feelings that come up whenever you orbit too closely to your former spouse (even if you live thousands of miles apart).

Can you say unequivocally how your life is going to turn out? Isn't it possible it may turn out differently than the lamentable predictions made during this difficult time? Can you say your story line of the breakdown of your marriage is absolutely accurate? You can navigate crisis in a way that is life-enhancing, productive, and optimistic. To emerge from your breakup with this result, you will have to choose the road less traveled, to be different from those who experience divorce as complete destruction. You will find within yourself qualities and strength you didn't know you had. In accessing the power of understanding, gaining insights and patience, you will find yourself stretched well beyond who you knew yourself to be. These qualities might seem antithetical to the divorce process, and you might feel inclined to save these for a more worthy mate. But fortunately, you do not have to wait for your divorce to be over to uncover this new power and confidence. You can begin relieving your pain while enhancing your strength right now.

You might be anywhere in the separation or divorce process—from the very beginning to the "It's final" point. You might have a former partner you never or rarely speak to or one who communicates regularly and even cordially with you. (Communicating with your spouse or former spouse is not necessary.) You may be the initiator of this separation or divorce, or you may not even want it. You may or may not be a parent. You may be a grandparent, teacher, co-worker, friend, or neighbor of someone going through a divorce. Whether you were married for four months or forty years, whether you are friends with your spouse or never want to lay eyes on him or her again—even if you have been divorced for years and still haven't found peace with your situation, the principles apply. If your emotions are being triggered in any way by the divorce of anyone, this book is for you. You may want to have a transformation or an epiphany, make minor adjustments, or just be relieved from immediate pain. No matter where you are on this path, you can benefit from The Good Karma Divorce. Take what you need when you need to use it and leave the rest for later on, or put it on your bucket list.