The Problem with Dual Relationships

March 31, 2016

Categories: Relationships

In psychology, we talk a lot about the importance of avoiding dual relationships. A dual relationship occurs when you have a different kind of relationship with a person in more than one setting. For example, if I took on a family member as a client, that would be a dual relationship. On one hand, I would have a family relationship with the person, but on the other hand, I would have a counselor—client relationship with the person.

Dual relationships are usually a bad idea. You can probably imagine why. In the above example, I might hold back during a counseling session and not say something the client needed to hear, because I was worried about upsetting our family relationship. Dual relationships can cause problems in both relationship settings, and that’s why it’s part of our ethical code as psychologists to avoid dual relationships as much as possible.

But I think the idea of avoiding dual relationships can be helpful in our normal lives as well. Sometimes we can get into trouble when we start a dual relationship with someone. For example, going into business with a family member might seem like a good idea at first, but it could cause trouble down the road. Dating a co-worker might seem fine at the beginning, but it could cause problems if the relationship doesn’t work out. Etc.

I’m not advocating for a hard and fast rule to never engage in dual relationships in your everyday life, but rather to exercise caution. If you find yourself thinking about getting into a dual relationship with someone, stop for a while and think it through. What might go wrong? If you had a problem with one part of your relationship, might it cause problems in the other part of your relationship? Is entering into the dual relationship worth the risk? Might there be a way to move forward and get what you want without entering into the dual relationship?

Discussion: What do you think about dual relationships in your everyday life? Have your experiences with dual relationships been mostly positive, mostly negative, or a mix?


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