Welcome to episode 32. In today’s episode, I have a meaningful chat with a psychotherapist, couples therapist, and certified emotionally focused therapist Louise Wästlund. 


One of the reasons that I love this interview is that, if you’re not familiar with the research that looks into the neurobiology of attachment, Louise’s way of talking about relationships (and a kind of democracy in relationships when it comes to our emotional needs) is clear, compassionate, and just very thoughtful. 


I wanted to do a series before I break for the holidays on looking at how we deal with all of the different challenges and opportunities of meeting with family and of spending time together. I wanted to consider some of the more superficial ways that we might respond to the complications that family and other important relationships can often provoke in our emotional and interpersonal lives. It’s very easy to put people and in particular our partners into boxes around some of the frustrations or sensitivities that get evoked when it comes to family. 


I think Louise does an amazing job at what we call in therapy “attachifying” certain phenomena that come up. What that means in simple terms is that when somebody perhaps becomes irritated or tired or maybe somebody freezes because of a certain emotional response, it brings up discomfort in us. But when we look at things through an attachment lens (meaning what is the need and longing that is driving someone to behave in a particular way), then the whole lens shifts. As you’ll hear Louise explain, even when somebody is seemingly minimizing somebody’s feelings (as in, “Why are you making a big deal about this?”), on the surface that looks like someone is being uncaring. But Louise goes in and talks about how, at the end of the day, even when someone is trying to turn down emotion in that way, it’s coming from a very sensitive place in them. 


Perhaps they don’t want their partner to be upset. Maybe they just want the night to go well. Possibly they’re just feeling nervous about their own emotions. These are altruistic and somewhat benign sensations from the point of view that on the surface it might look like somebody’s being irritable but, when you actually dig deep, you can see that there’s a real attempt at caring about their partner. 


This is the bread and butter of healing relationships and of looking at what on the surface may look like someone being somewhat malicious when, in fact, they’re really just trying to settle themselves. These kinds of reframes are at the heart of deepening our close relationships with others and really scrutinizing why we get our backs up, which I think can just make us closer. 


I hope you enjoy my conversation with Louise, looking at how we should think about our relationships and some tips to help us get through the holidays in a more collaborative and loving way.

Show Highlights:

  • How visiting family can make one partner feel left out.
  • The importance of getting that team feeling back in our relationships.
  • How our love and care for each other can ironically spiral into conflict.
  • Why we minimize our partner’s negative emotions in family situations.
  • How cultural differences can trigger arguments and make us question our compatibility.
  • What happens when we tell our partners that their emotions aren’t our problem vs. when we open the door and show them we care.
  • Why we need to find the root of our discomfort and anxiety.
  • How to prepare for the holidays with your partner.

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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 randy@rpcommunications.net. For all other inquiries, please send mail to info@mitchellsmolkin.com.


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