santa rosa marriage and couples counseling
improving communication skills in marriage and relationships
marriage and family therapist or MFT in marin county recommended books and reading on communication in relationships
Gudrun Zomerland, MFT, CCPS
Licensed Marriage
and Family Therapist
MFC #27617
405 Chinn Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Email Gudrun

Client Resources:

addiction self-tests Addiction Self Tests
sonoma county area addiction support groups 12-Step Fellowship Links
fair fighting rules and tips Handouts and Forms

Articles by
Gudrun Zomerland:

Addiction and

shame as a defense mechanism Shame as Self-Care
internet pornography addiction The Dangers of
Internet Porn
teen drug alcohol addiction Non-Violent Communication and its Relevance for Codependents
teen drug alcohol additction Teen Addiction:
An Open Letter
prescription drug abuse Prescription Drug Abuse
windsor alcohol and chemical dependency treatment The Core of Co-Dependency
santa rosa counselor for depression and anxiety Co-Dependent Characteristics
childhood trauma and post traumatic stress support H.A.L.T.: A Self-Care Tool
family and couples counseling in sonoma county The Family Member in Denial


treatment for trauma from domestic violence and spousal abuse Non-Violent Communication and its Relevance for Codependents
attachment disorders in adult relationships Attachment in Adult Relationships
healthy communication skills in adult relationships and marriage Getting to Know Your Emotions
sonoma county marriage counselor Communication Skills for Couples - 101
treatment options for alcoholism and drug addiction in marin county Differentiation, or What Makes Relationships Work
santa rosa psychotherapist treating depression and anxiety John Gottman's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

General Topics:

narcissism Rapunzel, Daughter of a
Closet Narcissist
psychotherapy for trauma Trauma: The Shaking Of A Soul
shame as a defense mechanism Shame as Self-Care
narcissistic parents and conarcissistic children Narcissism and Co-Narcissism
counseling for sexual abuse trauma in northern california Sexual Abuse Guidelines
rohnert park PTSD post traumatic stress disorder therapy Book Review:
"Stop Gaining Weight"
The Body Never Lies by Alice Miller and Hidden in Plain Sight by Barry Grosskopf Is Forgiving Our Parents Necessary for Mental Health?
overcoming fear and phobia through psychotherapy Fear of Fear
counseling for gay and lesbian couples in sonoma and marin county Living with the Light and Dark Sides of Life




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Communication Skills for Couples - 101

Gudrun Zomerland, MFT

More and more I hear couple therapists talk about that it is of no use to teach people communication skills because in the heat of an argument rationality flies out of the window and therefore those skills too. I think this is a dangerous position. If we expect people with severe impulse control issues such as batterers to become masters over their emotions, then we are certainly moving within the realm of the possible to expect the same of more ordinary folks. To expect less does not serve you, the one looking to change things in your relationships.

Communication skills are like driving skills; they are designed in accordance with the tool at hand. The tool we human beings have which enables us to communicate effectively is our body. The first task of being an effective communicator, therefore, is to get to know ones body just like you get to know your car in order to drive it well. We have to feel the different parts and label what is going on in those parts. Many people ignore or don't know the physical sensations of their feelings. Often this is due to the fact that many of us were either trained to ignore our feelings or experienced such prolonged or severe states of fear, sadness or anger during our years of growing up that we simply learned to dissociate from those feelings and therefore from our bodies. In order to communicate to another person who we are, what is going on with us and what we need, it is necessary to unlearn the tuning out process and to feel the sensations in our bodies.

Just like gasoline (and hopefully in the future electricity or another environmentally friendly energy source) makes a car engage its different parts in order to move forward, so our body has its fuel. It is called breath. Our breath enlivens every cell, which not only helps every part and organ function better, but it also helps our physical awareness. Once we tune into our body, we can ask some useful questions: "What does my heart feel like? Does it flutter? Does it feel like it has a steel band around it? What does my stomach feel like? Do I feel sick? Is it like butterflies in there? Is it tight?" Thus we can make an inventory of our vehicle, the body. All those physical sensations can be described or labeled with feeling words.

When we know what we feel, we can figure out the underlying needs that we need to respond to. If I feel afraid, for instance, I know I have a need for safety or for courage. If I feel sad, I may I have a need to talk or to cry, alone or with another person. If I feel angry, I know I have to make sure that I don't hurt someone or myself with my anger, and I may have to take time out before talking about the issue. All these different choices depend on your personality make-up and your preferences. Conscious breathing helps us through the assessment and problem solving processes.

Once we can describe what is going on with us and know that we can take care of ourselves, the next task is to relate our truth to our partner. The biggest question that arises here is: When? Just like we watch other drivers on the road and take them into consideration before we make a move, we need to take our partner into consideration before we tell him or her what is going on for us. This becomes challenging when very strong emotions are present, because we want to push ahead and blurt them out. But even if you are in a hurry driving down the freeway, you don't move into another lane without looking first and making sure there is room for you. Many couple therapists now want us to believe that most of us do not possess the skill of self-control. Even though road rage is on the rise, it is not the norm. If that were true, driving would be a far more dangerous activity than it is. I believe, that you and I have the ability to time our actions.

Signaling to our partner that something is up for us, that we want to merge into their lane, so to speak, is the most important function to prepare our partner to receive us. If your partner has no room for you, don't move! If you choose to move anyhow, a crash is inevitable. Even though many of us do drive aggressively, it really is not the best way. Driving is a much more enjoyable experience if we do it with courtesy, a sense of humor, and patience.

Communicating in relationships works much better with just those ingredients, too. It is easy to become impatient when you have approached (signaled) your partner that you want something and they don't listen. But it is possible that they are preoccupied, tired, or feeling feelings they don't know what to do with. Find out from them when a good time to talk is. Meanwhile find constructive ways to deal with your own feelings.

If all this sounds easier said than done, rest assured that you are not the only one feeling that way. Even with a lot of practice and under the best of circumstances, we sometimes fail in any of the above steps and a clash with our partner is the result. It is a good practice for both of you to debrief after an incident in order to see what can be learned and what each of you could have done differently. Sometimes, however, even with emotional intelligence communication remains difficult. If that is so for you, please seek help, receive coaching and look for possible hidden reasons of why relating with one another is conflict-ridden.

Suggested Readings on Communication for Couples:

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Gudrun Zomerland is a marriage and family therapist in santa rosa and kentfield