Judge Michele Lowrance talks about:
Hosted by: Dan Couvrette, CEO of Divorce Magazine
Guest speaker: Judge Michele Lowrance. Michele Lowrance spent 20 years as a domestic relations lawyer prior to becoming a Domestic Relations Judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois in 1995. She recently authored the book The Good Karma Divorce and has been a guest on Good Morning America, The CBS Morning Show, CNN, ABC and other shows. She also appeared, produced and hosted radio shows and is a regular guest lecturer.
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Judge Michele Lowrance: Well, I've been sitting on divorce court as a judge and I've never done anything else but be in divorce court as a judge. I was a lawyer for 20 years and with the coordination of those two professions it became very clear to me over time that people had three myths about the divorcing process that ended up being very damaging to them.
The first myth is the myth that children of divorce are resilient. That myth creates the failure to take adequate precautions, and I'll talk about that in a minute. The second myth is that your emotions won't hurt you and that you'll just get over it in time. And the third myth is that the court system will save you, ultimately, no matter what happens in your case. The reliance on any of those three myths causes people to hurt themselves.
Let me start with the first one, the resiliency of children. Dan, people stand in front of me, and say “I love my children, I would never do anything to hurt them,” and yet their behavior is not in concert with their heart's intentions. There is a different kind of parenting -- upgraded parenting skills -- to protect children, and the failure to do that has caused 50% of the children of divorce to never want to get married, and two thirds of them don't want to have children. That's really problematic.
The second one is that people give up all their power to attorneys and even to the court system and to people like me, thinking that that's where their healing is going to take place. The courts are not built to house these emotions, and attorneys are not trained to reduce this kind of suffering. The problem is that divorcing people expect relief far beyond what the legal realm can provide, and then end up feeling powerless and unprotected.
In listening to you Michele, one of the things that comes up for me is that as people go through a divorce, they really need to become a better person than they were prior to their divorce, so they can actually deal with the challenges. And it's tough to do that because this is the most challenging time in their life. But to really get through it successfully and to help their children they really need to be the best that they can possibly be as a human being.
Judge Michele Lowrance: Well, you know, it's like your house is on fire and your child is in your house, and all of a sudden you pick up 110-pound child. You never had this strength before, it's heroic parenting, it's accessing and learning how to manage your emotions, it's accessing a self in you that's always been there but that you didn't know you had -- and we rarely use if we don't have to.
So let's go back to the title of your book and maybe you can just explain to me and the listeners The Good Karma Divorce, what does karma mean to you in the context of divorce?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Good question Dan. People read so much into that. It means many things. The most important thing it means is karma means opportunity, and the opportunity to take a different path. That opportunity is afforded to you when you're through a divorce on a daily basis, maybe even an hourly basis, to pick an action or a thought and whatever action or thought you pick is how your life is ultimately going to turn out.
Is that what you consider to be the formula for The Good Karma Divorce?
Judge Michele Lowrance: No, the formula is a little bit more extensive than that.
Judge Michele Lowrance: The, the formula addresses how to make it possible to make the better choices. You know, Dan, I would never say just “think your way into being a better person” – because they’d say that’s just too much to ask of me, I can't do it. But if you say: here is why it matters and here's some ways to get there, it can be done. And the second part of karma that how you behave during your divorce is what you are going to pass down to your children. If you don't figure it out in a different way, the burdens, the pain, and the anger will be passed on to them, and compromise their emotional DNA.
Right, so I'm assuming that the book is for people who are going through the divorce process, or is it equally valuable for people who have already gone through the divorce process, or people who are even thinking about going through a divorce? Who is it intended for?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Well, you know, we all know people when we look around us, or you go to a party and somebody grabs you in the corner and starts telling you about their divorce and then you find out it was seven years ago and their emotions are as fresh and as ripe and as exuberant, and you think the divorce was yesterday.
Judge Michele Lowrance: I can tell you categorically that there is no expiration date on this good karma divorce protocol. You might be in the middle of your divorce, you might be locked in mortal combat or it could have been a decade ago, or you could just be at that point of considering it, it is a way to live, and really, it's a way to do all kinds of different struggle. Divorce just happens to be the one that we're talking about. It's also helped grandparents and friends. The strange thing is, in the last couple of months I've gotten a lot of calls from teenagers who have read the book.
Oh wow, fantastic.
Judge Michele Lowrance: Yeah, I should've sent this to you, some of the letters that I got because the, the teenagers feel so hopeless, and they needed to know there was some hope somewhere. And evidently, they were able to find hope by the process of understanding that what their parents were going through and figuring out that it wasn't their fault.
Right. For those of you who have just joined this call, I'm speaking with Judge Michele Lowrance and we're talking about, about some of the concepts that she talks about in her book, The Good Karma Divorce. And by the way, you can go to www.divorcemagazine.com and hear this complete interview if you have missed the beginning of it, and you can visit Michele's web site as well, it's www.thegoodkarmadivorce.com. And so getting back your formula, is there a sequence of things that you should do, and where do you start?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Well I will tell you where to start, but first I'll give you just a brief overview on the formula.
Judge Michele Lowrance: One of the parts of the formula is writing a manifesto and writing rules of engagement. And the second part covers ways of managing your emotions, so that you keep your power by being non reactive. The third way is the role of parenting skills with the building skills, which are different skills for going through a divorce, parenting in the trenches of adversity. And the fourth one is transformative confrontation, how to go to court, what the court will deliver, how to negotiate, what to do when you think your case doesn't have a prayer of negotiating, and the real brass tax of what goes on in the court.
But your question was about the first part which is the manifesto. The manifesto is a document that you write based upon a whole bunch of questions that are in the book. What it does is that it puts healing on a fast track. It really is a blueprint that will help carry you through the process of your divorce -- you can call it a flight plan, you can call it a GPS -- but in the middle of the conflicting bombarding emotions, when you forget what it is that's important to you, you want to write down what's important, what your goals, how you want your children to see you, how you want to come out at the end, and somewhere in the middle of the divorce when goals no longer matter because you're so emotional, you'll be able to go back and remember what it is you need to do.
There's this old fable about a frog that's placed in water and they brought the water slowly to a boil but the frog never leaped out because it happened so slowly. And the frog dies because they don't realize that they're in boiling water. The manifesto tracks your path so you don't end up one day at the end of your divorce cooked.
So is this beyond having a mission statement, like a business would have a mission statement, this is your own personal mission statement?
Judge Michele Lowrance: It's not incorrect to say mission statement, but it's a lot more than that because you want to change it all the time, you want to change it as you see things differently, But you do need a mission statement, because unless you have the sense of how you want to go through this thing, you're going to have a very, very difficult time and you need to be able to refer back to it. If you're not guided by a plan, you're guided by chance which is no guide at all.
Right, okay, and then the next step is?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Well after you create your manifesto, you're going to start working with all of the emotions. There's a lot of negative emotions during the process of a divorce. The strongest, most masculine of men will have tears in their eyes because they're finding that they were guided by emotions and all of a sudden they're acting in ways - in ways that are nasty and angry, and in ways that they never knew were part of them.
You know, going through a divorce is like going through emotional surgery without anesthetic. You need to build in your own anesthetic by finding out what is going to hurt you and what isn't.
You know, anger masquerades as power, it is the greatest emotional pharmaceutical and supply of energy. We would much rather feel enraged than impudent. It's very seductive.
And you can turn the anger into manipulating people and it's a vicious circle, right?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Oh yeah, all of a sudden you're in this cycle and you have no way to get out. Now in the beginning, anger does serve a function. It's a built-in alarm system. It says I've been insulted, I've been injured, you can't do that to me, it's a violation, it's a call to action, and for a time, it does give us some fuel, it does motivate us, and it is a very flashy cover for sadness or weakness. But it has very short-term durability, and like a snort of cocaine, the price is very high. I think that skills for managing anger and resentment are crucial.
Right. Now you really believe that people can put themselves back in control of their divorce and, but they can't do it without a manifesto. What are the next steps after that?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Well a lot of them happen simultaneously.
Judge Michele Lowrance: For example, the criticism chapter is how do you talk to your spouse.
Judge Michele Lowrance: It helps you not making things worse. Let's face it, by the time you're getting divorced, you've had a full diet of criticism and probably one day it was just more than you could take. You know, criticism is the greatest destroyer of communication in marriages that I know.
Judge Michele Lowrance: And people think that once you cross over into the line of breaking up the family that criticism is like a buffet -- it's all you can eat.
There are needs you want to get met during a divorce, and when you're critical, you can't get anything that you need. So that's the first thing I want to deal with: how you talk to your spouse, how you talk to your kids in ways that even during adversity you can get what you need. And the next chapter is about anger and working with anger, and resentment and the desire for revenge which is very normal.
And then it goes on to how to apologize and take full responsibility. I must say that the only way I ever unhook from feeling like I'm in part of an injustice and feeling a victim and feeling like I've been wronged, is when I take responsibility for my part, which is always so small we know but nevertheless, that is the greatest way to remodel my relationship with anybody.
So I hear in what you're saying, which is that through the strategy of your book, The Good Karma Divorce, you really help people and guide people to that place so that they are managing, they are in control -- not that you don't get out of control from time to time -- but you're really helping put people in control. And only you can control yourself. Is that an accurate assessment?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Yes, it's true but you, you bring up a good point because the title of the book is, The Good Karma Divorce, and people have asked me how they’re going to have a nice divorce if they don’t agree to have good karma.
And I would say it’s wonderful if you can get on board and collaborate to try and save your children, or even if you don't have children, collaborate to try and save each other from going through a horrendous nightmare. What the book mainly says is that you have to do the work yourself. If you are going to mirror somebody else's bad behavior, then they have complete power over you and you've given up power over your life. The book is really about maintaining your own power so that you don't go through this mix-master, this hellish nightmare, without any control or wisdom or understanding or tools to manage your reactivity.
So chances are you might be doing this all by yourself, and the rest is just icing on the cake.
I know that you believe that just trying to survive a divorce is a dangerous strategy. You really need to be more proactive than that, don't you?
Judge Michele Lowrance: You said it perfectly, some people immediately go into trying to just survive the thing, and because they're so afraid, fear has locked them into survival mode. But survival mode will never deliver anything more than just mere survival. Every journey, and this is a monumental journey, takes an enormous amount of courage to deal with the onslaught fear and uncertainty. So in survival mode, you just try and bury the pain and get out of it, you don't give yourself the luxury of learning from the pain. It's like putting a coat or a dress on layaway and paying every month on that coat, and eventually you pay it off -- but you never pickup the coat. There is so much there for the taking. And yet if we're in survival mode, all we do is come out, and if we don't heal properly, we may heal -- but we heal twisted.
Right. For those people who have joined this call recently or in the last few minutes, I want to let you know that you can hear the entire podcast that Judge Michele Lowrance and I are doing on www.divorcemagazine.com, or you can read the text version on www.divorcemagazine.com. We only have about seven or eight minutes, so I'm going to ask Judge Lowrance a few more questions. One of the things -- and you've touched on this already -- is about reacting to the other person's conduct. And I know that that can be disempowering when you are reacting or pushing buttons. So what is the strategy for actually not reacting to it? How do you let that go? How do you not get hooked by your ex spouse?
Judge Michele Lowrance: I'm going answer that in a few ways. There's many, many tools and exercises, whether or not you're going to become the reactor or the creator of your life. This is really the ultimate question: does every decision and every step you make bring you to a higher place or to a lower place?
Now, let me give you an example of how you can bring down your reactivity to anger. There's an exercise called the pristine exercise based upon the realization that we are all multi-dimensional. Write down your spouse's limitations. When you write down a list of your spouse's limitations it will become clearer to you they could not have acted in any other way but how they did. Write down three or four other interpretations of the behavior that’s driving you crazy, and you will find out that it's possible that your story is not exactly what you think it to be. The only thing you need to do is breathe a millimeter of life, of oxygen, into the possibility that your story may have another interpretation. Once we get locked into our storyline we have a claustrophobic inability to see things in a different way, and then we start the cycle of rumination. One of the exercises has to do with writing. Writing helps you separate your emotions. Writing activates another part of the brain that's the problem solving part of the brain, it gets you out of your fear –– your limiting system -- so when you write, you are problem solving in stereo. If you just keep it in your mind ruminating, like in the middle of the night, you can't problem solve. You've got to get it on the page so you can start using your brain in different ways. There is study after study that shows that writing employs different neurological pathways and is more enhanced than just plain cognitive thought, and it reduces the fear through writing, while also bringing down the anger.
Write a letter to your spouse, for instance, if you've got something to say to them but you can't articulate it, and you may or may not give it to them. Is that the idea of the writing?
Judge Michele Lowrance: You know, it's, it's an old tool but I'm telling you, but I, I see it a little differently, I have them write three letters.
Judge Michele Lowrance: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday so to speak, because by Wednesday it's going to be a completely different letter. Trust me and just experiment with it, don't take my word for it, and you will see that had you have acted on the first letter you would have put yourself in a position that could have repercussions for years to come.
Right, because it's really not going to come from the place you want to come from in your life.
Judge Michele Lowrance: But not only that Dan, you'll be able to spy on yourself, you'll be able to watch yourself as the anger subsides, and you'll say: oh it does do that, doesn't it?
I know when I was going through my divorce, one of the people I was getting coaching from said try and be an observer of your life rather than being a person who's acting, try and watch your life like you're a fly on the wall watching yourself, and that's kind of what you're talking about, When you write this letter out, you'll have a better sense of where you're at and you'll be able to say: is that really me?
Judge Michele Lowrance: Well I can tell you I do it on the bench all the time. When I start getting angry -- and believe me I'm capable of that regardless of the book -- I watch it and I found where my ego is and it's right in my neck, I say: ah, that's, that's where it's lying, watch yourself Michele, just watch yourself get aggravated, and it's exactly called spying on yourself, observing. That gives you that breathing space that you need to make the right decisions.
The other place that I got to every so often was to feel like I was the victim, that why did this happen to me, I'm such a great guy, how could I possibly be in this position, and that can take you down a dark deep tunnel. Is there anything you can tell us about how The Good Karma Divorce and your strategies can help, help you when you're feeling like the victim?
Judge Michele Lowrance: I'm going say that we all want to feel like the victim when we're going through a divorce, and we get so much compassion, you know, first we tell a story to our friends, oh my gosh, then our family, oh you poor thing, then our lawyer, oh you poor thing, and all of a sudden it seems to have a tremendous payoff. It's completely understandable, but ultimately being a victim means that the other person has power over you, and you have to try and avoid them because you're afraid of what emotions they're going evoke in you. It’s better not be a victim and keep your own power. It's the single most disempowering thing you can do, and we all have our storylines that we create in the divorce. You can't learn when you have a storyline. There is so much there, and so much we have responsibility for, and yet we don't want to take responsibility. It’s so much easier to be the victim, which means soon you're a victim to them, then you're a victim to the court system, then you're a victim to your lawyer, then you're a victim to the world. It’s very dangerous because it has a very adhesive quality.