The Scoop: Navigating the dating landscape can be hard, especially when you’re dealing with feelings of insecurity. Managing conflict or tension in a long-term relationship can be daunting without the proper tools and coping mechanisms. Experienced relationship therapist Kyle Benson can help people build their emotional toolbox and navigate difficult situations. In his therapy with couples and singles, Benson takes an empathetic approach to relationships. By focusing on communication, conflict navigation, and building intimacy, Benson leads his patients to happier and healthier love lives.
Everyone knows that relationships can sometimes be tricky, especially when it comes to navigating conflict. How you and your partner go about handling tension in your relationship says a lot about the health of your connection — and can even make or break it. Couples therapists like Kyle Benson, LMFT, are a great resource for learning how to work through conflict and build a strong, healthy connection together.
I have had very few personal experiences with conflict in previous romantic relationships. This isn’t because my past partners and I had a “perfect” relationship, nor was it because we were masters at healthy communication. Through therapy and lots of introspection, I actually came to realize that I had been engaging in a pattern of passiveness. Rather than face issues head-on, I would bottle up my feelings and not speak up when I was needing or feeling something. This led to resentment rather than the ability to move on from issues, and didn’t help the connections with my partners at all.
In my time in therapy, I was surprised to learn that these habits started forming in my early years. According to Benson, this is what a lot of his therapy patients come to realize — that their habits and attachment issues almost always stem from childhood. When he works with both couples and singles, he seeks to both help them understand the “why” behind their love life struggles and how to transform them into healthy and happy love.
Intimacy and Connection Are the Goal
Experiencing disagreements and bumps in the road can happen to any couple. Especially if you’ve been together for a long time, you and your partner may not agree and get along perfectly one hundred percent of the time. When these issues do arise, however, how you communicate and process these moments can be very telling about the health of your partnership. In his practice, Benson explains that a focus on both conflict navigation and connection helps him lead couples to a stronger, healthier relationship.
“We have strategies that we learn to cope with the distress of not feeling connected, cared for, loved, or accepted. And unfortunately, the strategies we use in conflict sometimes touch our partner in a way where they don’t feel cared for or respected. So they react in ways that reinforce our own fears and insecurities, and we react in ways that reinforce theirs. How we talk about things and how we show up emotionally are really huge in that area.”
Things like losing your temper, raising your voice, name-calling, and other combative reactions are obviously not the most productive ways of handling interpersonal conflict. Yet things can sometimes escalate there when heightened feelings are involved. These behaviors can start to corrode the foundation of a relationship if they occur frequently, so Benson places a lot of emphasis with his clients on how and why these cycles come about.
“My goal with couples is to slow things down. I really help them understand why they might behave the way they do in conflict, help them communicate what’s going on emotionally, and why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he says. “When they can share that with their partner, their partner sees them in a different light. ‘I get louder because I’m scared [and feel like] I don’t matter’ is a very different thing than just getting louder and screaming and calling them a ‘big jerk.’”
Once his couples begin to practice healthy, effective communication, Benson says that fun and intimacy, rooted in a secure connection, can begin. He shares that focusing on which feelings are both pleasurable and attainable for both partners is the key to building (or rebuilding) intimacy.
“Some people have relationships where there’s very little affection. They want to have that, but that wasn’t modeled for them growing up, and they don’t really know how to really enter that space. So I walk alongside them to be able to be open with what feels pleasurable, what doesn’t, and start to connect and create a safe place for erotic exploration.”
Encouraging Singles to Have Hope
Contrary to what the name may suggest, a relationship therapist does much more than serve couples. Benson, especially, works to encourage and empower singles in his therapy sessions. While it’s easy to get stuck in the fear of being single forever, Benson shares that building a little confidence and willingness to put yourself out there can yield great results.
Before that work can begin, however, he also notes that getting to the root of any insecurity or fear surrounding dating is a crucial first step. “A lot of people that have had bad relationships have a lot of insecurity as they are trying to find certain partners,” Benson says. “They say ‘I can’t find someone’ or ‘I’ve been hurt, I’ve been rejected.’ So, we do some healing work to open them to healthier relationships.”
From there, honing in on what you’re looking for and what you like — rather than whether a potential partner likes you — can help attract the partner who is right for you.
“A lot of the people that come for dating help are very anxiously attached. Often their thing is, ‘does this person like me,’ and they give their power away,” he explains. “My job is to support them and say, ‘Let’s actually check in to what you want. Is this a good relationship for you? Is this healthy for you? Is this dynamic something that you want? What can you do to speak your needs and see if this is a person who’s a good fit for you?’ That’s really the work I do.”
It All Starts With Attachment
So many of the issues we face in dating as adults can be traced back to our earliest years. Benson shares that insight with his patients, and it’s something I became aware of in my previous dating history. The relationships we had with our caregivers as children informs so much of how we live and love within our relationships later in life. In fact, when Benson first started his practice, he was inspired by the work of John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship therapist and expert, and the book “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment” by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller.
After a string of his own difficult relationship experiences, Benson turned to these resources to find answers — and hope — for his future in dating. “They really spoke to the challenges I was facing and inspired me to ask, ‘Why does this happen this way, and how can I have a healthy relationship?’” he shares.
Now an Emotionally Focused Couples therapist, Benson’s journey has come full-circle. He uses a comprehensive approach with his patients to not only help them tackle problems in their relationships or dating lives, but also build time and space for intimacy, pleasure, and fun.
One incredible resource that Benson is offering to anyone — not just his patients — are his upcoming digital courses on attachment theory. These online resources are a great way for you to dive deeper into how your earliest relationships are now affecting the cycles and behaviors you’re experiencing in those of your adulthood.
“The first part is a course on understanding your attachment style, and how that impacts the quality of your relationships,” Benson says. “The second one is how two different attachment styles can really impact each other and create a lot of dysfunction and disconnection, and how to do things differently so you can have healthier relationships.”