Many people grow up dreaming of love, romance, and that fairy tale wedding.
But the reality is that plenty of marriages can quickly start to feel transactional.
Are you in a transactional marriage? This article will cover 9 key signs to look out for.
What is a transactional marriage?
In a nutshell, a transactional marriage is based on self-interest.
Both partners get something out of it, and are focused on their own needs and wants.
A cliched example would be the rich aging man who marries a young beautiful woman.
She is looking for security from his wealth, whilst he enjoys the attraction of her looks in return.
It may sound cold and calculated, but the truth is that plenty of human interactions involve transactional elements.
In an ideal world, we would connect with someone else for the sake of love and intimacy, expecting nothing back. But in the real world, we often behave very differently.
Marriages can become a quid pro quo, where we expect certain things from our partner. If they fail to deliver, we may consciously or subconsciously withhold what they need from us in retaliation.
9 signs of a transactional marriage
1) You’re focused on what you get, rather than what you give
One of the biggest hallmarks of a transactional marriage is a strong focus on your own needs rather than your spouses.
You and your partner think largely about what is in it for you. If it doesn’t seem beneficial to you, then you are reluctant to do something.
As a consequence, you may notice a general lack of generosity within the relationship.
You don’t make gestures for each other for no reason at all, just to show you care.
If you do something nice for one another, there is usually a deeper motive behind it that relates back to getting your own needs met.
For example, a husband may bring home flowers or take his wife out to dinner, but only if he wants something in return, not simply to show his love and affection.
2) The relationship feels more practical rather than emotional
Transactional relationships are by nature very practical, and they can quickly remove emotions and feelings from the picture.
You do this, I will do that. These are the agreed terms.
If it sounds almost like a business deal rather than a relationship, you wouldn’t be far off.
This is why feelings tend to take a back seat in transactional relationships.
The problem with transactional relationships that start to become more business-like is that the partners can feel like they have very little emotional investment in one another.
You may feel like you are staying in the relationship for convenience, and to share certain practical tasks.
- Financial reasons
- Raising children
- Sharing household tasks and responsibilities
- Because of the expectations of others — e.g. family, community, or religious institutions.
3) You have strong expectations of one another
Expectations tend to creep into most relationships, even non-transactional ones.
We often silently and subconsciously form expectations of our partners and our relationships without even realizing it.
But in transactional relationships, those expectations are usually more clearly defined, and the relationship may hinge upon them.
If those expectations are not met then there will be consequences.
That could mean getting angry and mad at your partner. It may mean withdrawing your part of the bargain and refusing to do something until they do something.
Many of us expect our partners to unfairly fulfill our needs, rather than do it ourselves.
4) You keep score
In transactional marriages, it can feel like tit for tat. It becomes a place of evaluation and quid pro quo.
You both understand your place and your responsibility, and you know how to play the game.
You each have a role, and you know exactly where you stand.
If one of you fails to follow through on their side of the bargain, you can be sure the other is taking mental note.
The marriage can start to feel quite petty.
“I’m not taking the bins out, because I have taken them out three times in a row now.”
Or “Washing the car is their job, so why should I do it? My job is to unload the dishwasher”.
The scorecard can be used to keep a record of all past transgressions and mistakes and may be pulled out to use as ammunition in the future.
5) The relationship feels like work
Transactional marriages, with all their obligations and expectations, can start to feel more like work than love.
They may be devoid of any lightness, fun and feeling. Instead they are filled with the burden of responsibility.
The focus on getting needs met leaves an absence of playfulness.
In the first flushes of love those feel good hormones tend to leave us feeling euphoric. Endorphins can put you on a high that makes being with your partner feel amazing.
But if your marriage has become transactional, it can start to feel more like you are cohabiting colleagues.
6) You have very defined roles
Perhaps the most classic example of a transactional marriage is the historic role of marriage.
In the past marriage was almost exclusively transactional.
It was arranged to tie families together, consolidate political power and social status, and provide a controlled environment for sexual activity and rearing children.
Romance had nothing to do with it.
Arranged marriages still take place which are intentionally transactional and practical.
They are there to divide the labor in a household. And often there are very clearly defined roles within the relationship.
One is the breadwinner, the other is the homemaker.
One takes care of finances, the other runs the home.
7) You find it difficult to say no
One of the more subtle clues you are in a transactional marriage is feeling like you can’t really say no.
Expectations come hand in hand with the obligation. There is always the threat hanging over you that if you don’t fulfill your role, your partner will not fulfill theirs.
In a relationship built upon getting your needs met, there isn’t as much room for saying no.
Your value may feel attached to what you do rather than who you are.
And when you do try to say no, you might find yourself having to justify your decision. This can make it harder to say no.
So instead of saying no, you might end up saying yes to things you really don’t want to do.
8) You don’t feel safe being open and honest
Transactional relationships can be lacking in an emotional connection.
There may feel like a lack of empathy and understanding within your marriage. Because both partners are looking out for their own needs, it creates a lack of flexibility.
In order to be vulnerable and share our inner self with another, we need to connect with them on an emotional level.
If you feel like your relationship is just based on what you do for one another, then it can be difficult to establish this emotional trust and security.
9) There’s a lot of judgment and blame going on
Whenever we focus on ourselves and what is in it for us, we struggle to see the view of another.
And this is what can start to happen in transactional marriages.
Using a selfish frame of seeing things means playing the blame game can be common. You and your partner may judge one another. Or see problems as the other ones’ fault.
It can also lead to a sense of entitlement.
When you think about how you deserve something because you’ve done something for someone else, it can create resentment.
The problem is that when you’re focused on yourself, you lose sight of what is important. What is important is the relationship between two people.
Not what you did or didn’t get from your spouse.