Relationship Friendship — 03 October 2009
How to manage a “Dual Relationship

A dual relationship in psychotherapy occurs when therapist and client relate to each other in more than the designated professional care provider and help seeker. Medical, legal, and other professionals are also bound by ethical guidelines safeguarding clients from being exploited or harmed.

In life, most people relate to each other in dual or multiple roles, such as: co-workers/friends, family members/mentors, neighbors/consultants, without guiding principles or rules.

Common wisdom and experience teaches us that mixing family relationships with money, business, competition, mentorship or advice giving, may not be wise. Yet, people still choose to borrow/lend money to each other on a handshake, go into business together in good faith and little security, or help family members whom they know to be unreliable and risk their relationship.

Lending money to relatives may be done with love, caring and generosity- or through familial obligation, resentment and begrudging. Regardless, once it’s done, the family connection is further compounded by the lender/borrower role.

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Polonius counsels his hotheaded son: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

Though some resort to legal protection, others find it hard to say “no” to relatives or feel selfish and uncaring in setting boundaries for their own welfare.

Issues of inheritance sometime damage siblings’ connection as they duel in their dual relationship role as peers and competitors for assets and status as the “favorite child”.

When a woman manages the office at a business that she and her husband co-own, her role is usually well defined. Yet, her relationship with her husband at work is very different than her role with him at home. How they address each other on the job, make decisions, manage staff and handle financial choices can be agreed upon and practiced – but may not be satisfying, equal or respectful enough for either of them. The dual relationship taints both roles of loving mates and business partners.

The talented tennis Bryan twins- found that their deepest connection to each other frayed a bit when they had to play against each other as rivals. “It’s tough enough to lose without having someone in your family beat you”, said Kathy Bryan, their mother.

The dual role of parents and home study teachers may, at times, confuse and frustrate both generations. The expected leniency of parents may collide with the demands for their children’s educational achievement.

Parents of adult children who attempt to facilitate their married children’s marriage conflicts, are likely to find that both spouses may resent them in due time and that their best efforts may be frustrated.

Experts, who give free financial, legal, medical, construction, recreation or any other expert advice, may jeopardize their closeness to their friends, if their suggestions do not bear the intended fruits.

Since we all must at times have dual relationship with others, we should consider the following:

• Understand that any additional role may dilute or alter your original relationship.
• Assess the possible positive and negative impact in adding a role and refuse it if the costs appear too high.
• Never be coerced into a new role- it is the precursor to bad feelings and relationship distancing.
• Accept that sometimes refusing to accommodate the other’s need may not be selfish, but rather saves your relationship.
• Set boundaries for your self-care as you enter a new role. “I am happy to care for your elderly father for this weekend. If he will need future care, I could recommend an agency to you.”
• Deal directly with your concerns about dual roles. “I am happy to give you my opinion about your date, but if my opinion could jeopardize our friendship – I prefer to withhold it.”
• Help others with generosity- without expecting gratitude. Your dual role is evidence of your decency.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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