Today’s interview epitomizes the entire reason I started this podcast. In it, I have a conversation with an incredibly brave and courageous couple. As we talked and I heard their story, my ambivalence around whether it is possible to convey the magic of vulnerability through this medium faded away. What is central to this podcast is the power of letting others into our fears, and how counterintuitive it is that our weaker feeling states actually come across as incredible strength to others. 

A few years ago, Julie began experiencing some strange symptoms. She felt extremely fatigued and she noticed that her eyelid would droop from time to time. She brought her concerns to her partner, Ian, who is a physician, and like most of us in our relationships, he didn’t want to worry and suggested she focus on getting into shape and building her stamina. 

However, Julie was eventually diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a long-term neuromuscular disease. This was a turning point in their lives and brought a whole new set of challenges, both emotional and physical. 

I was introduced to Ian and Julie when I posted an article on LinkedIn about the dynamic that often emerges in couples where one of them is dealing with a chronic or terminal illness. Julie, a therapist in her own right, responded, sharing the relief that she felt to see their experience mirrored in the words that I wrote. She particularly resonated with the idea that the “healthier” partner tries to put on a front and protect the partner who is sick, and how that can breed distance and come across as a lack of empathy. Once I heard from her, I knew I had to invite them onto the show.

In this episode, the three of us have a heartfelt conversation on how Julie’s illness has affected their relationship. I fell in love with their playfulness and joy that you’ll hear them express throughout the beginning of our interview. As we slow some things down, it translates into something deeper. We get into Ian’s struggles with expressing his emotions and how he modeled himself after Star Trek’s Dr. Spock growing up, dreaming of being a competent and caring physician. Julie opens up about what it is like to experience this distance at times and the impact of him letting her into his fears and worries. If you want to build bridges to your partner in your own relationship, you don’t want to miss this conversation.

Show Highlights:

  • The story of Julie’s diagnosis.
  • What it was like for Ian to realize that she was really sick.
  • How Ian being a physician factored into the couple’s situation. 
  • What Myasthenia Gravis is and how it affects Julie.
  • Ian’s dream to be like Dr. Spock, and how that has impacted his expression of emotions.
  • How Ian feels when Julie asks for help.
  • Why Ian doesn’t want to burden Julie with his pain.
  • What happens to Julie when he opens up to his fears and lets her in. 
  • How revealing our fears actually makes others feel relieved.
  • What happens in our physical bodies when we’re vulnerable.

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Mitchell Smolkin is a sought-after clinician, speaker, and author. For media and interview requests please contact his publicist Randy Phipps at For all other inquiries, please send mail to