A couple’s counsellor may be employed to guide a romantic relationship through challenging circumstances or help strengthen a partnership in times of strain.
Relationship therapists can successfully help couples through even the most trying circumstances, but what are we to do about the friendships important to us that are also undergoing serious hurdles?
Friendships, even those that last lifetimes, can be lost over misunderstandings, disagreements, and a lack of communication. With the right guidance, couples in romantic relationships can overcome issues such as these, so why can’t friends do the same?
“It is quite rare for friends to attend couples counselling, but those who do find that they benefit enormously,” says Annie Gurton, an Imago* couples therapist on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
“Like in intimate relationships, ‘stuff’ can come up between friends, and an understanding of what’s going on, and learning a way to communicate during conflict, can be profoundly helpful.”
Below, and with Gurton’s sage advice, we unpack the process and benefits of couple’s counselling for friends.
When should friends seek relationship counselling
As Gurton explains, long-term friendships often outlive romantic relationships, and so it’s important to maintain these connections with friends since there is a lot to lose. We’re talking about precious childhood memories, a trusted confidant, and of course, love.
“Long-standing friendships are an important part of our emotional armoury and help us be resilient and enjoy life. But — as in intimate relationships — conflicts can arise but disagreements are more likely to mean the end of a friendship than in a couple, since couples are often more committed to working through to a solution.
“As in a couple, a pair of friends may mutually feel that they don’t want to lose the friendship, yet there is something acting as a block between them, that may be causing them to cool off or even avoid each other. If they are agreed that they have an issue but don’t want to lose each other as friends, then that’s the time to seek professional help.”
What happens in a friendship counselling session
Gurton says there is very little difference between a counselling session for friends, couples, siblings or families. “The aim of the work is to help each person learn to listen so the other can talk, and to become vulnerable in a safe space so they can disclose experiences that have formed them.”
The sessions, particularly those from an Imago therapist, whose approach to relationship work ignores any differences in age, gender orientation or labels, will explore with each person the childhood events that helped shape their adult relationships.
“The therapist will hold a safe space where the clients feel confident to explore themselves in the presence of the other. Thus each can learn more about themselves as well as learning about the other, and therefore understand more clearly what’s going on in the relationship and what needs to change to heal the conflict.”
Is the friendship worth saving?
Some friendships fizzle quite naturally while others end for an irreparable disagreement. Sometimes, this is for the best! And it’s something friends will usually discover only when they’ve had time to heal. So, how do you know if your friendship on the fritz is worth repairing? How do you know if you should hold on and work things through, or let go?
As Gurton explains: “There are some friendships that have a definite lifespan. Taking the view that people enter and leave our lives all the time, and some stay a short time and some a long time, helps us to be pragmatic when a friendship comes to an end.
“We know to let a friendship go when we feel it is becoming toxic; when being with that person is upsetting and/or humiliating. It’s more than just having a few arguments, or even having arguments all the time.
“What defines a healthy relationship is the ability to resolve conflicts. A relationship in which there is never a conflict is not automatically healthy. Conflict is growth trying to happen, and is the grit in the pearl that makes the oyster.”
*Imago Relationship Therapy is a form of relationship and couples therapy that focuses on transforming conflict into healing and growth through relational connection.