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Never get defensive in a conversation. 4 communication behaviors to always avoid

These communication behaviors destroy relationships.

We all want to be understood. To feel like the people closest to us see, validate, and love us. More importantly, we want to be that person for others.

In order to do so, Studio 5 Parenting Contributor Heather Johnson says there are four communication behaviors you must always avoid.


Heather emphasized that communication is a “foundational principle for healthy families.”

She explained, “We know that whatever communication looked like in our house growing up, we tend to take with us.” This means that if you grew up in a household where communication was open and healthy, you’re likely to carry that into your own relationships. But if communication was poor or unhealthy, you might struggle with it in your own life.

The Role of Conflict in Communication

Heather points out that conflict is a natural part of communication.

“We know that in communication, there will always be conflict,” she said. But she also emphasized that conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Even feeling negative emotions like anger or frustration. That’s not bad. It’s learning what we want to do with them in communication.”

Host Brooke Walker added, “I remember a marriage therapist one time saying… that if a couple never fights, something’s wrong.” This doesn’t mean that constant arguing is healthy, but rather that disagreements are a normal part of any relationship. They’re an opportunity for growth and understanding, as long as they’re handled in a healthy way.

The Four Horsemen of Communication

Heather identified four communication behaviors that should always be avoided. These are criticism, contempt, stonewalling, and defensiveness. She referred to these as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse,” because they can lead to relationships falling apart.

1. Criticism: Heather explained, “Criticism is anytime we point out a flaw or a weakness, and we’re pointing it out in our spouse or in our kids, and we hope that it’ll motivate.” But she warned that criticism often has the opposite effect, causing the person to feel shame and become paralyzed.

2. Contempt: This is when we criticize from a place of superiority. It can take the form of mocking, name-calling, or even eye-rolling.

Heather said, “This is when we look at a child or a teenager and we say, ‘Are you really crying about this?’ Instead, treat your children as people, not objects. Give them grace and remember they have good and bad days just like you.

3. Stonewalling: This is when we choose to disconnect from the conversation before any understanding has been reached. It can involve shutting down, removing ourselves from the situation, or hindering the other person from having a voice in the conversation.

4. Defensiveness: “Defensiveness happens when we decide to make it mean something about us. When we make it about us, then we get defensive,” Heather explained. So, try not to make it personal.

To contact Heather for counseling, email, or visit

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