Communication patterns that destroy trust


Dr. John Gottman spent 40 years researching marital stability and theorized these “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” but it only took me a few hours to turn them into angry ponies. While Gottman’s research centers on couples, I think these are applicable to many types of relationships – especially in how parents and their adolescents communicate with each other. Adolescence is naturally bumpy and laced with conflict. The parent/child relationship changes rapidly as teens cycle between the exhilaration of independence and the safety of dependence. While conflict is natural, it shouldn’t feel toxic- help foster generative conflict in many types of relationships by showing up with vulnerability and avoiding blame.


Criticism (a form of blame). A partner who engages conflict in a criticism-based way might say something like “you always do this!” (Look for words like always and never)

Resolution for this type of non-generative conflict can come through talking about the feelings you are having instead of locating them outside of yourself.

Contempt (also hiding) — Contempt can often look like verbal abuse in a relationship. Contempt offers no opportunity for joining with a partner or for resolution.

Resolution of this pattern can come through intentional practice naming things that you appreciate about your partner and your relationship


Stonewalling (another form of hiding) might look like silence. Examples might be “the silent treatment,” walking away from an argument, or leaving a partner’s texts on “read”. Stonewalling is tuning the other person out, ignoring, or sometimes it’s a fear-based shutting down that occurs when a person doesn’t have emotional resources to engage (see window of tolerance resource).

Resolution often looks like taking a break. Let both partners get grounded and return to the conversation.

Defensiveness – also a type of blame – May look like statements such as “it’s all your fault!” Defensiveness escalates conflict and deflects shared responsibility. It may inflate the problems that are present.

Resolution comes through becoming curious about the co-created dynamic and how both partners are participating

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