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  • Dr. Teresa Edwards, LMFT

Danger Ahead: The Warning Signs

It can be easy to let destructive emotional and behavioral patterns sneak into a relationship. They can go overlooked for years, slowly tearing away at the connective fibers of the relationship. While there are many destructive patterns that can emerge, there are four that are especially damaging and can be warning signs of danger ahead for the relationship.

warning signs

Warning Signs to Watch For


It's easy for small arguments to grow into huge fights. Escalation takes place when negative emotions and behaviors increase and intensify during a disagreement or argument. Escalation becomes especially dangerous when a person begins showing contempt.

According to Dr. John Gottman, the presence of contempt is the most significant predictor of divorce in marriage. Contempt is shown through disrespect, mocking, sarcasm, name-calling, mimicking, hostile humor, and body language such as sneering and eye rolling.

Escalation can be side stepped by being aware of your own mental and emotional states and being willing to do something to derail the escalation when it is noticed. Agreeing to step away from the argument for a while, using gentle humor, softening your tone, and letting go of defensiveness are some good ways to stop escalation.


Invalidation occurs when a person directly or subtly dismisses or puts down the wants, thoughts, feelings, or character of another. Direct invalidation involves being critical or dismissive of a person's thoughts and feelings. Direct invalidation could look like, "You're always so sensitive. Why do you overreact to everything?"

Subtle invalidation can be seen through sarcasm, facial expressions, or minimizing or trying

to fix a person's feelings. This can look like, "You shouldn't feel upset. It really wasn't that bad." While you may be trying to make that person feel better, you are actually saying that their thoughts and feelings about a situation aren't appropriate.

Invalidation can cause loss of trust and closeness. It also increases levels of defensiveness in the person receiving the invalidation. Stopping invalidation requires respecting the other person, their dreams, and their point of view, even if you don't agree with them. Showing respect means not being critical or judgmental of that person and their views, but instead being empathetic and understanding.


Negative interpretations occur when a person consistently sees the behavior and motives of another person through a negative lens. This wears down feelings of fondness and admiration in a relationship and increases the chance that small arguments will escalate.

Negative interpretations can be hard to change. Increasing positive interactions and connection is a good way to begin changing this pattern. Also, being open to the possibility that you are in a pattern of negative interpretation and making a conscious effort to look for alternative interpretations to the other person's behavior and motives.


Withdrawal and avoidance are unhealthy ways to avoid uncomfortable or conflict discussions by either shutting down during a difficult conversation or avoiding a difficult conversation altogether. The problem with this pattern is that it stops communication and prevents any chance to repair or manage a difficult situation.

Some people withdraw or avoid because they are afraid of the escalation that can accompany conflict discussions. Taking steps to stay calm during conflict, such as deep breathing or taking an agreed upon time out, can help decrease the pattern of withdrawal and avoidance. Time outs should be taken with an agreed upon set time to continue the discussion.

If you are dealing with any of these relationship warning signs in intimate or family relationships, I would love to work with you to help you change these destructive patterns and repair your relationship.

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