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Friendship Therapy: What It Is and How to Get Started

Growing up, friendships might have felt so much easier to create and maintain.

Two friends in deep conversation while sitting on an outside patio and drinking a glass of wine.

We became besties with the kids of our parents’ friends, or we found a kindred spirit out on the playground one day during recess. Maybe it was the kid who lived down the street, who was always ready to co-create new worlds with you. Barring any moves or major rifts, these could be your closest friends for well over a decade. Everything felt built-in for the friendship to succeed. As we became young adults, we still found it easier to develop and nurture those friendships. We went off to college and got involved in student groups where we found people who FINALLY got us. Or you started working, and you connected with that one really cool co-worker who made work feel worth clocking in for. Those connections ran deep, and true. They felt different as a young adult, more vibrant, more engaged, more real.

But as we became older, we moved, changed jobs, and started putting our priorities towards other types of relationships. You were the friend who got a partner and disappeared, or maybe you started having kids and became far too busy to keep up with friends like before. You could have also been the friend who felt left behind, so you pulled away instead of sticking around to see how the friendship could change and evolve. Now you might find it hard to develop friendships as rich as the ones you had before. Or you might worry about losing those friendships, not knowing how to sustain them like your other relationships with your partner, your kids, or your family of origin.

Limiting Beliefs About Friendships

The narratives around friendships, compared to our romantic or familial relationships, often sound like, “friendships are nice, but they are not where your focus should be; they are not the relationships that give your life TRUE meaning.” So when it comes time to make decisions on where to put our relationship energy, we will choose our partners (even if we’re single), we will choose our family, or we’ll choose work. We are taught to find our soulmates as quickly as possible or that family comes first, always. If these beliefs feel incredibly limiting, that’s because they are. The world around us tells us to subscribe to a relationship hierarchy where romantic love comes first, familial love comes second, and platonic love comes last. Then when we are left wondering why our friendships aren’t as fulfilling as they used to be, or we begin to notice friends pulling away/disappearing, we are left wondering what went wrong? But why would anyone want to stick around when they know they come in last in your life every time?

Now you are either the friend who feels jilted or you are the one jilting your friend(s), and you have no clue how you got here or how to improve your current situation. We think friendships come and go on their own and that there isn’t much for us to do about them. Friendship endings are seen as just a part of growing up and growing apart. But when you value your relationship with your friends, you invest in them. You have to put in the work and the effort to show them you want them to be in your life, just like you would if there were issues with your partner(s) or family member(s). If we begin placing our platonic relationships on the same level as our romantic or familial ones, we begin to shift our thinking around how to reconcile, heal, and nurture them as the life-affirming relationships they are.

You might be thinking, “does this mean what I think it means?” You bet! A great way to care for your relationships with your friends is to seek out friendship therapy. Friendship therapy is the intentional investment in the health and well-being of your relationship with your friend(s). It is a form of therapy that an increasing number of individuals who view their friendships as worth nurturing are seeking out for support. Whether you feel like your friendship is slipping through your fingertips, you are lifelong friends who are feeling more like strangers, or you had an argument you’re not sure you can come back from, friendship therapy can be a supportive space to help navigate through these issues. Much like other forms of relationship therapy, friendship therapy can help friends improve their communication, create space for true feelings to be shared, and work to build on and strengthen the friendship.

7 Tips for Suggesting Friendship Therapy

Therapy can be hard to suggest in any relationship and talking to a friend, especially if there is already tension, might feel nearly impossible and too vulnerable to do. So here are some tips to get the ball rolling:

  1. Choose a comfortable setting. Invite them to a place that makes you both feel relaxed and makes it easier to have the conversation. Going to the park or your favorite coffee spot can help ease your nerves.

  2. Take accountability. Own up to the role you’ve played the current crossroads between you and your friend. Accountability can play a big part in having their feelings and experience heard and letting them know you are serious about going to therapy.

  3. Use “I” Statements. These provide you the opportunity to speak from your perspective and experience rather than accusing or assigning blame to your friend. For example, instead of saying, “Because you can’t get over this, we don’t talk as much anymore. Try something like, “I feel lonely without our weekly Friday conversations”. Your “I” Statement is about you, not them.

  4. Be clear about your motives. Oftentimes, communication breaks down because we aren’t sharing adequate information, so share as much as you can as to why you want to pursue friendship therapy and what you’d like to get out of it.

  5. Be open. Remember that your friend is someone you want to heal with, so start practicing your ability to let them see what you’ve been holding in. Vulnerability can be a major source of connection and intimacy.

  6. Don’t play the blame game. The moment you start pointing fingers, it’s a wrap. It can put your friend on the defensive and neither of you will fully hear each other out, let alone want to consider therapy at that moment.

  7. Don’t force therapy or make it a requirement for your friendship. Things like ultimatums can leave a sour taste in someone’s mouth and have an adverse effect on your goal of rekindling or repairing your friendship. You want to invite your friend on this journey, not force it on them.

So if you’ve been feeling the woes of a distant friendship, going back and forth about reaching out to a friend, or waiting on an apology from a long-time friend, friendship therapy could be beneficial. Your friendship is worth the investment. Healing Exchange can provide the space to explore what it means to nurture a friendship that will stand the test of time.

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1 Comment

Dorothy Nam
Dorothy Nam
Oct 26, 2023

Beautifully written and so relevant for many, no matter our age! I see a lot of intersections between fostering community and friendship— intentionality and effort are required. Thanks for taking the time to write this and to share your knowledge and wisdom with us!

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