How to feel less transactional in relationships: 7 tips

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How often do you feel like you’re being treated as a transaction rather than a person?

Transactional relationships are those where both parties are focused on their own self-interests instead of focusing on each other.

To feel less transactional in your relationships, you need to work on building genuine connections and developing empathy for your partner.

This article will offer practical advice on how to feel less transactional in relationships.

What does it mean when love is transactional?

But first off, let’s dig a little deeper into what we mean about transactional relationships and love.

When we talk about love, we usually think of romantic love or affectionate love. But there are many types of love. And one type of love can be transactional.

In fact, the traditional basis for marriage for many centuries was always a transactional agreement.

The purpose was practical.

It was used to preserve power, strengthen the status of a family, rear children, share household tasks, and control sexual conduct.

It was only in the 19th century that romance and love really came into the picture. But transactional love still exists today.

A classic example would be arranged marriage. But more subtle examples are also common. They include any partnerships where both parties are seeking something specific out of each other.

That might be sex, money, security, a better life, etc.

So, what is a transactional relationship?

Transactional love is when two individuals enter into a relationship with the sole purpose of benefiting themselves. This may include personal gain, financial gain, or some other type of practical gain.

It’s less about feelings and resembles more of a business deal.

There are some common characteristics of transactional relationships:

  • Results-oriented

A transactional relationship is all about results. There is an end purpose. The result is not about feelings or emotions. It’s about money, sharing work load, possessions, or something else more tangible.

  • Positive and negative reinforcement

The incentive to contribute is to get whatever it is that you want from the relationship and the same goes for the other person too.

  • Expectations and judgment

We expect certain things from our partners. If they don’t meet our expectations, then we judge them negatively or may withdraw our part of the deal.

  • Partners compete against each other

In transactional relationships, partners may compete against each other. They want to win and can feel driven by jealousy or resentment.

 The dangers of transactional relationships

The truth is that most of us have some transactional relationships in our lives. Even if it’s not fully transactional, it may have aspects that are.

The boss who pays the employee to go to work, the student who pays the piano teacher for lessons, the customer who pays the beautician for their treatment.

Transactional relationships certainly aren’t all bad. When they are balanced and respectful, both people can feel like their needs are being met. There can be a mutual understanding that benefits both.

Some connections are more prone to feeling transactional, but they tend to be more on the periphery of our lives, rather than be our closest connections.

But what about when our more intimate relationships feel transactional?

If you’ve ever been in a relationship where you felt like you were just a piece of furniture, a commodity, or a vehicle for someone else’s benefit, then you know exactly what it feels like to be in a transactional relationship.

Here are some of the dangers of transactional relationships:

  • Potential for resentment as one or both may feel used.
  • Low intimacy because the relationship isn’t based on genuine feelings.
  • The relationship feels like a burden or chore over time.
  • A sense of emptiness because the relationship doesn’t have depth.

So how can you avoid these pitfalls and feel less transactional in your relationships? If you’re feeling frustrated by a transactional relationship, here are some ways to break free and change the dynamic:

How do I become less transactional in a relationship?

1) Stop keeping track of what each other does

Relationships can quickly fall into a transactional space when you are keeping track of each other’s “contribution”.

You may think that you need to keep track of what your partner does because you want to make sure that they are doing their fair share. But this is actually a way of trying to control the situation.

Expecting food on the table when you get home because you are the main breadwinner is a good example of how this could easily arise.

Instead of focusing on what your partner is giving, focus on what you are happy to give.

It’s much easier to give and receive love and support when you are not keeping tabs on each other in this way.

2) Watch out for expectations

Expectations can crush any relationship — whether it’s based on emotions or is more transactional.

When we create silent, or explicit expectations of our partner that are not met, we are bound to feel disappointment.

That disappointment can quickly turn to frustration and resentment. And once resentment sets in, it can easily lead to anger.

So how can we watch out for expectations?

Don’t expect too much from your partner. Don’t see it as your right to demand anything from them.

For example, if you notice yourself expecting your partner to sleep with you after you paid for dinner, recognize that this becomes a quid pro quo situation that is dehumanizing of their needs.

If you want your relationship to be less transactional, you have to stop automatically expecting them to do things for you — and vice versa.

What you offer each other has to come from a genuine desire to do so, rather than the pressure of expectation.

3) Be honest with your partner

Honesty is key to building trust. If you don’t tell your partner what you really think, they won’t know how to respond appropriately.

And if you aren’t honest with your partner, you will never get to the point of having an authentic connection.

So how can honesty help us build deeper relationships?

By being honest with ourselves first. We must learn to express our true desires, needs, and opinions without fear of judgement from our partner.

We also need to remember that we cannot change others. We can only change ourselves.

Trying to bully a partner into doing certain things or behaving a certain way can leave the relationship feeling transactional. If shows them “if you don’t do this, then these are the consequences”.

So instead of trying to fix our partner, we should try to understand each other and find empathy towards one another.

4) Learn to say no

Being able to say no is critical in building healthy relationships. It allows us to set boundaries around our own lives.

But saying no can be hard. Particularly when the relationship already feels transactional, you might worry about how not living up to your perceived side of the bargain will be received.

When we feel obligated to do something for someone else, it can be difficult to say no.

But learning to say no is one of the most important skills we can develop. In order to do this, you may need to find your own voice to become more assertive and confident.

This is especially significant if you feel like you are in a one-sided transactional relationship.

Finding your inner power, self-worth and self-esteem is vital if you don’t want to be taken advantage of.

5) Be more generous

The big difference between transactional versus regular relationships is that couples in love give because they care — not because they want something.

They give because they want their partner to feel good. They give because they want their relationship to grow.

In a transactional relationship, we tend to focus on what we’re getting out of the relationship. We don’t usually think about giving simply for the sake of it.

If you want to feel less transactional, then focus on being generous with not only practical or financial aspects of your relationship, but also your time and affection.

For example, you can start by giving compliments every day. You can also make sure that you show your appreciation for all the little things your partner does for you.

It’s easy to forget how nice it is to receive these kind of gestures. When you take the time to appreciate those small acts, you’ll see how much better your relationship becomes.

6) Have fun together

Having fun together is another great way to create a non-transactional relationship.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing something as simple as watching a movie together or going dancing at night.

Fun creates happiness. And the more happy times you share together, the more the relationship will feel based on emotions rather than transactions.

So if you want to feel less transactionally with your partner, then spend some quality time together.

Look towards the shared interests you have. Find out what you have in common and can bond on a deeper level over it. Identify your shared values, goals, and dreams in life.

All of this helps to build trust and intimacy in your relationship.

7) Get expert advice for your specific situation

While this article explores the main ways to make relationships feel less transactional, it can be helpful to speak to a relationship coach about your situation.

With a professional relationship coach, you can get advice specific to your life and your experiences…

Relationship Hero is a site where highly trained relationship coaches help people through complicated and difficult love situations, like creating healthy, happy, and successful relationships.

They’re a very popular resource for people facing this sort of challenge.

How do I know?

Well, I reached out to them a few months ago when I was going through a tough patch in my own relationship. After being lost in my thoughts for so long, they gave me a unique insight into the dynamics of my relationship and how to get it back on track.

I was blown away by how kind, empathetic, and genuinely helpful my coach was.

In just a few minutes you can connect with a certified relationship coach and get tailor-made advice for your situation.

Click here to get started.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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