PNDC for Couples

Using This Information Packet: This packet includes (1) an overview of the content; (2) short biographies for Sharon Strand Ellison and her daughter, Ami Atkinson Combs, who are the primary master teachers of the Powerful Non-Defensive Communication™ process developed by Sharon; and (3) signed and unsigned comments from participants. The overview starts with the introduction from the landing page and then continues with more information. Each section is marked clearly, so you can start with "More . . ." if you've already read the introduction.

You can use the links below to go to directly to each section. You can also return to the landing page to access additional information about workshops, conferences, and coaching.

Training Context & Overview
Biographical Information
Participant Comments: Signed and Unsigned

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Training Context & Overview

Introduction from Landing Page: In long-term relationships, it can be a struggle to maintain the kind of intimacy that often draws people together in the beginning. Independence is often lost as well, for one or both parties. When a couple has children, the stress on the relationship becomes intensified. In order for a relationship to mature without losing its joy and passion, both intimacy and independence must become, if anything, stronger, rather than weaker.

In Powerful Non-Defensive Communication workshops couples can learn how traditional communication methods damage the potential for creating relationships that thrive. You can learn how to maintain openness and vulnerability even during hard times when trust may be damaged, as well as how to set boundaries that maintain both independence and self-esteem.

More . . . Traditional communication is build on the “rules of war,” so defensiveness is our primary self-protective response. Most people have also learned that to be open and vulnerable requires trust first. When you love someone deeply and anything happens to damage trust, the wounds can go deep, quickly. Then, showing vulnerability isn’t considered “safe” and the defenses can come up instantly. Far from protecting, it creates a kind of alienation that can become increasingly pervasive in the relationship.

Our common ways of communicating also increase the likelihood that one or both parties in a relationship will start out trying to “please” each other, setting a precedent for not having clear boundaries. Trade-offs happen, where both parties give up core needs. Each person can end up feeling both betrayed and controlled by the other to varying degrees.

If couples can work through disagreement or crisis in ways that actually strengthen trust, the relationship can mature with love that deepens over time. Learning Powerful Non-Defensive Communication skills can give couples the tools they need to show vulnerability balanced by integrity in setting clear boundaries. This process allows couples to be genuinely reciprocal. Each person can fulfill her or his potential, while achieving profound intimacy as a couple.

Biographical Information

Sharon Strand Ellison, M.S., Executive Director of the Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication (IPNDC), is an internationally recognized communication consultant, an award-winning speaker and the author of Taking the War Out of Our Words. Sharon with her daughter, Ami Atkinson produced the award-winning audiobook, Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. Sharon is a pioneer in developing methods for eliminating defensiveness so people can communicate with constructive power. She was a nominee for the Leadership for a Changing World Award, sponsored by the Ford Foundation and the Advocacy Institute.

Sharon began her career working with families in extreme crisis. Later, she started a private practice and has since been providing coaching and counseling for couples for more than 35 years. Her approach has always been to give direct honest feedback to each person in a relationship and to do on-the-spot coaching to help each person learn ways to respond without getting defensive. Sharon also provides an overview or map for the couple with regard to how the relationship functions as a “system” of interactions, which includes what she calls VERB elements: values, emotions, reasonings, and behaviors. Due to her commitment to teaching Powerful Non-Defensive Communication in group settings in order to offer more people access to the skills, Sharon no longer coaches individual couples. However, she offers workshops for couples and speaks at many conferences.  

Sharon also speaks at conferences and provides training programs for professionals in more than a dozen fields. Her clients include Kaiser Permanente; Nordstom, Regional Diversity Managers; Wells Fargo; the United States Department of Justice, Stanford University, The smithsonian, and the Centre for Dispute Resolution, London, England.

Ami Atkinson Combs, Director of IPNDC, is a graduate of Mills College and co-author of the audiobook Taking Power Struggle Out of Parenting. As Sharon’s daughter, she has been an active participant in the years of discussion as Sharon envisoned and refined the PNDC Communication model. Ami has done psychosocial research at Stanford Medical School, been on the Newborn and Parent Advisory Board at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital, and worked with severely emotionally disturbed children.

Ami is gifted in the art of identifying relationship systems. She is also highly skilled in modeling the interruption of any process that involves defensiveness and power struggle and guiding couples toward in-depth non-defensive conversations. Ami offers coaching and workshops for parents as well. Her husband, Jesse Combs also does training with parents, couples and groups of men. The mother of 16-year-old twin boys. Ami uses a hands-on approach when providing workshops and coaching for parents. She also speaks at conferences and provides training for early childhood education programs.

Ami’s innate understanding of systemic patterns in communication is alsp a cornerstone of her work with organizations, helping individual teams as well as the organization as a whole to strengthen their communication internally and with their client base. She offers coaching and trainings for educational institutions, nonprofits, corporations, and community organizations. Her clients include: General Dynamics, CA; Lockheed-Martin, CA; Habitat for Humanity, CA; the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, Toronto, Canada; The Association for Early Childhood Education, National Conference, and CCG Systems, VA.

Participant Comments: Signed and Unsigned

Signed Comments

Your Powerful Non-Defensive Communication Parenting Class that my husband and I attended really saved our family. Even my husband, a combat veteran who was trained by the military to be reactive, was able to shift into a non-defensive style—something he had been trying to do, but was unable to accomplish for 30new years. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for dedicating your life to this work, which has the power to make this world a much better place.

—Jan Fishler, Tin Cat Media — Producers of Educational DVDs

You are masterful and elegant in the presentation of the work and in the gentle way you interacted with us. I strongly believe that you will achieve national recognition with this communication method. It is larger and more powerful that the Mars/Venus model! 

—Phil Wilshire, Pharmacist

I believe this is the most powerful structure I've learned in my training as a  Marriage and Family therapist. It has tremendous implications for most human interactions.

—Bette Acuff, Ph.D., M.A., San Francisco, CA

I've been having the same problems with my boyfriend of seven years for as long as I can remember and I haven't been able to understand his behavior no matter how hard I've tried.  For years I've been extremely hurt when he shuts down, disengages, or simply leaves the room when I try to discuss any problem with him.  

We were at the bookstore recently when he found your book and said he connected to it profoundly … I saw your book on the table and remembered how much he said he related to it, so I sat down to read it … your scenarios and phrases described … our situations exactly. I finally had what I'd needed for years: to understand that his behavior was not because he didn't care about my feelings and that there was a reason behind my feelings of abandonment. 

I sat up the rest of the night reading your book. I was overwhelmed with the immensity of what this newfound understanding meant to me. I just sat there and cried.  Even therapy couldn't do this for us. We now have answers to what's wrong and what we can both do about it. I am without words to sufficiently express my gratitude and the magnitude of the impact for us as a couple.

—Juliette Miranda

Unsigned Comments

I am amazed how the results are almost identical for men and women and for so many diverse personalities.

I went home after the first session and asked my husband one non-defensive question and we had the best conversation we've ever had.

I can not only improve my current relationship, but can see what I could have done differently in past ones.

Very good, imaginative analysis of typically difficult conversations. I can see how this kind of language work could empower both typically "aggressive" or "passive" verbal types.

I feel I will use this, not only in my present relationship, but also in reviewing (and revising) my part in past relationships.

I feel that the workshop gave me a method to live what I believe is possible in relationships. Sometimes I got chills in my body or tears in my eyes from your statements about how we can be non-defensive and still be safe/protected—that in fact, this is the way to be safe.

The Institute for Powerful Non-Defensive Communication • Contact Us
Powerful Non-Defensive Communication is a trademarked name. © 1994-2017 Sharon Strand Ellison

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"I believe this is the most powerful structure I've learned in my training as a  Marriage and Family Therapist. It has tremendous implications for most human interactions."

—Bette Acuff, Ph.D., M.A., San Francisco, CA




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