Meet the women going to therapy to save their friendship

Meet the women going to therapy to save their friendship

October 8, 2022

Written by Sahar Arshad

Platonic love can sometimes be as tricky to navigate as romantic, but would you consider going to therapy to repair a friendship wound? These women did…  

Like most other people, I’ve experienced a friendship break-up. At the time, I pushed what was happening to the back of my mind and got on with it, but looking back, I can see just how overwhelming it truly was, mainly because the end of a platonic relationship never seemed to garner the same level empathy as a romantic one. Although people understood and tried to console me, the heartbreak was much harder to explain than it would have been if it were a romantic break-up I was going through. 

This led to the realisation that real friendship, I now understand, requires the same amount of care, nurturing and compromise as romantic love, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. In recent years, books such as Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, Aminatou Sow’s Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close and Ann Friedman and Natasha Lunn’s Conversations On Love have dominated the bestseller lists. We’re ready, it seems, to finally take platonic love and friendship seriously – and for some, this has meant attending therapy with friends, too. 

For Sam*, 34, it was something she sought out when she fell out with her best friend from university. Both friends were in their late 20s at the time and Sam had just moved in with her fiancé. They fell out when a mutual friend told Sam her friend felt she was now “boring” and “unfun”. “I confronted her in a text and she responded with very cutting comments about my personality and choices. I reacted by spelling out my criticisms of her over text, which she never replied to. I was so hurt and angry and we didn’t speak for nearly a year,” says Sam.

Eventually, Sam reached out to her friend, telling her she missed her, a step that did make her feel vulnerable and exposed. “I was in individual therapy at the time and my therapist suggested that my friend and I could see someone together, almost like couples therapy. At first, I thought it sounded too intense – it’s not like we were married – but my therapist pointed out that I cared about the friendship and wanted to see a way through.” Although Sam felt her friend would laugh at the idea, she was actually touched that Sam cared so much.

According to Charlotte Fox Weber, psychotherapist and author of What We Want, this is something more of us should be considering. “I’ve been pushing for friendship therapy for years — we spend so much time talking about the importance of working through romantic relationship struggles, but friendships are hugely meaningful and can also be a real challenge,” she says. Fox Weber makes it a point to offer relationship therapy for people who are joined in various ways — siblings, mother and daughter, work partners and friends. The idea is that pairing between two people occurs in so many ways and it’s helpful to look at all the pairs we form and how they connect to the rest of our life.

“I once worked with friends who were struggling with unacknowledged rivalry. One of them had substantially more money than the other, and there was huge resentment and guilt going both ways. The one with less money had a child she felt burdened by, and the one with more money had fertility issues she found daunting,” she explains. “They both envied each other for different reasons, and rather than admit this directly, they’d masked their true feelings with judgment and harsh criticism.”

Fox Weber notes that it was easy to see this in their way of communicating and that the therapy was for their own benefit, something they ended up discussing in a useful way. One of them said life would be so much better if we were in a good place again, says Fox Weber. “They got tearful and agreed that they wanted to sort out their tension.”

In the end, Sam and her friend attended three sessions with a recommended therapist. She notes that the commitment to the sessions and splitting the cost felt really emotional. “With other friendships, we wouldn’t have bothered, but our connection felt too important to let go of without trying,” she says.

“Very often, time-limited work is effective – a few sessions can help friends deal with issues and strategise,” says Fox Weber. When friendships rupture there can be an upsetting sense that there’s no point in trying. Especially if one person has been in therescuer role, a fixer. Therapy shines a light on the ways that only one person trying to fix things doesn’t work, and helps to rebalance the give-and-take of a healthy relationship. Having this space for recalibration is hugely helpful.

There is also the fact that friendship dynamics have changed drastically over the last few years. “The pandemic turned people’s lives upside down and friendship dynamics completely changed overnight,” says Jessica Alderson, a relationship expert and cofounder of SoSyncd. “It was a lot to deal with and some friendship dyads need external support to adjust to these changes.”

And with more people than ever attending therapy (a record 634,649 people completed the NHS Talking Therapy programme last year), there is a higher chance that friendship groups could find themselves considering it when conflict gets too tough to work through alone. “Inside the counselling room, friendship therapy is taken just as seriously as couples therapy and, in some ways, even more so. This is because it’s less common so people who choose to go to friendship therapy are often prepared to make a huge effort to make things work. Ultimately, it means that both people care deeply about the friendship, which is a positive sign in itself,” says Alderson.

That said, it can still be tricky for outsiders to get their heads around. Sam noted that friends and family initially found it strange when they found out she was doing it. “Mostly, though, they were surprised that we went through the effort of it all,” she adds. But she also notes that, to her, it was an experience worth going through because in the process both she and her friend were able to find better ways to communicate, and they’re still friends to this day. “People still don’t know that friendship therapy is a thing,” adds Fox Weber. “And it could help so many who are struggling with people they care about.” 

We couldn’t agree more. 

* Names have been changed

Images: Getty

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