In an explosive interview with the BBC, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the former friend and aide of the former first lady of the US Melania Trump revealed some shocking details about the couple’s personal lives. Prime among these was that the Trump marriage was essentially an example of transactional relationships, even going to the extent of calling the 2005 marriage a ‘deal’.
“Perception is everything to the Trumps. Donald got an arm candy, Melania got legitimacy. She was a young model but she met Donald, married him, and in 10 years, became the First Lady,” said Wolkoff before explaining how she fell out with the couple.
In fact, several media outlets have been naming the 15-year-old union, a ‘transactional marriage’, thus further giving credence to a unique relationship arrangement that is about anything but love!
What Is A Transactional Relationship?
As is self-explanatory, the word, transaction – the action of conducting business, as defined by the Oxford dictionary – is applied to the world of relationships. When there is a transaction in business, there are clear terms of buying and selling, profit and loss, and several other factors that are pre-decided.
Transactional relationships are somewhat similar. Romantics may have eulogized marriages as a bond based on love, chemistry, compatibility, etc. While transactional relationships may or may not have these elements, these definitely present a business aspect. There are expectations and reciprocation and some convenient arrangements, as in a business deal.
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Incidentally, marriages in several cultures across the world are transactional. For instance, in traditional Asian societies, while fixing arranged marriages, factors like money, education, family status, astrological compatibility, and future prospects come first while factors such as love and compatibility are secondary. In these cases, a marriage is often seen as a deal to further interests between two families.
It’s only in western democracies that love and attraction are considered to be the foundation of a marriage. But even here, most couples, subconsciously perhaps, enter into transactional relationships where the first question asked is – what am I getting out of it?
Outside the realm of rare and often unattainable unconditional love, transactional relationship psychology is at play in almost every romantic equation. For instance, even if you choose someone as a partner based solely on their money or status, the financial stability that being with them would bring to your life is a factor that may make them more appealing to you. Even if materialistic aspects are governing your relationship choices subconsciously, it’s still an example of transactional love.
4 Characteristics Of Transactional Relationships
There is a view that transactional relationships might be more symbiotic and fair than other relationships because the terms and conditions are clear. There is more chance of equality and fewer opportunities for exploitation. In fact, couples may have a written or unwritten pact about the responsibilities in a marriage. As Trump himself said in an interview in 2007, most parenting responsibilities fell on Melania. “She takes care of the baby, I pay for the costs,” he was quoted as saying.
Here are some typical characteristics of transactional relationships:
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1. Increased focus on benefits
Since transactional relationships treat the marriage more or less like a business deal, there is an increased focus on who brings what into it. So the man may be the breadwinner while his wife may look after household matters or vice-versa. The very transactional relationship meaning is that both partners stand to gain something out of it. It’s an arrangement that fulfills the needs of both partners, and that’s why a transactional romantic relationship can function like a well-oiled machine.
2. There are expectations from both sides
If true love is all about giving without expecting things in return, transactional relationships and marriages usually have a high expectation factor. A certain income, the way a home is run, parenting responsibilities, caring for extended family, etc are woven into it. Since the expectations are clearly defined and agreed upon by both partners, the chances of conflict can be minimized.
3. There is more getting than giving
Marriages based on love and emotions do not keep scores. The focus on transactional relationships is definitely on getting returns on what one has invested in. As in arranged marriages, the emotions may come in at a later stage but initially, the transactional relationship psychology is all about receiving. Both partners do their bit to make the relationship work only as long as they continue to get what they were promised.
4. Pre-nuptial agreements are common
The signing of a prenup before entering marriage is also a form of transactional relationship. A prenup specifies the terms and conditions of the marriage and what happens if either partner does not observe it. In cases of acrimonious divorces, a prenup becomes all the more important. This is commonly seen in marriages involving celebrities or business leaders, even if the relationship with their future partner is rooted in love. This is one of the classic examples of transactional love, where marriage is sealed not by wedding vows but by a legal document outlining who stands to gain what.
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3 Advantages Of Transactional Relationships
The characteristics of transactional relationships may sound rather bland and go against the idea of marriage and emotions. But come to think of it, every relationship is like a transaction with pre-set relationship expectations and both partners bringing in their strengths and weaknesses to the table. Also, transactional relationships do not mean there is no love nor does it mean that every aspect has to be put down on paper.
1. Only one partner is not the giver
As in a business relationship, in a transactional relationship too, both partners ensure that there is no imbalance in their equation. The assumption in most relationships is that of existing love. However, love should not be so blind that one partner completely ignores the needs, desires, and wants of the other. In transactional relationships, both partners are aware of what they do for each other.
Transactional relationships exist in families because of this very reason. The element of security puts everyone’s minds at ease, and that’s why arranged marriages where the two families decide on the terms of a union are popular in certain cultures. The same is true of marriages governed by prenups.
2. There is more equality
Such relationships will often not be one-sided selfish exploitation. Both partners know their worth, they are willing to negotiate and reach a middle ground. Also, there are loving transactional relationships and ones based on pure need. In the former, there will be equal give and take but the ‘transaction’ will be grounded in love. The foundations of all marriages remain the same, only the awareness is perhaps more in transactional marriages.
3. You are more secure legally
In the unfortunate event of a divorce, transactional marriages are far better because you are legally more secure. It might sound unromantic but separations often get nasty because one partner feels slighted and there is no real way to gauge whose loss is more once the relationship ends. Even if you go through a trial separation and think you’re prepared for a divorce, the legal battle can be all-consuming and draining.
Splitting of assets, noting down responsibilities, and judging who did what becomes a tad bit easier when a transactional marriage breaks up. It might prevent a split between a couple from getting worse even if it’s already bad.
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3 Disadvantages Of Transactional Relationships
As with everything else, transactional relationships are far from perfect. Aside from the fact that it sounds as if it goes against the very tenet of romantic relationships, there are other factors that may not make it smooth sailing.
1. Marriage seems like a chore
Shweta and Rohit, both born to NRI parents and raised in the States, conceded to their families’ wishes of sticking to the arranged marriage tradition. However, having grown in the US and a limited understanding of how to make such a transactional romantic relationship work, they both felt increasingly unfulfilled in the marriage.
This is not unusual. Many a time, couples stay in unhappy marriages because they have too much to lose when they split. These could be shared financial interests or fear of losing face in society or inconvenience for children. As a result, they may even stop making an effort to repair the cracks in their relationship resulting in the widening of the gap. They end up becoming roommates who perhaps tolerate each other rather than equal partners.
2. Partners may be inflexible
In happy marriages, couples find a way to overcome their differences. They also figure out a way to share tasks and feel good about their partner. In transactional relationships, each partner might feel less obliged to be flexible or accommodating.
‘I am already doing the chores, why should I help with the kids’ homework’ can be the thinking in some instances. There is too much focus on getting a return on emotional, physical, and financial investment. This can be one of the very real dangers of a transactional relationship.
3. It may not be good for the children
Children deserve to grow in a loving, nurturing environment. And they learn by observing their parents. In non-loving transactional relationships, where you just barely tolerate your spouse, you affirm to your children that it is okay to live a life where relationships are cold and dry.
They may not learn the other important aspects of marriage like a bit of sacrifice, emotional investment, adjustment, trust, etc. Thus instead of raising children who look at forming healthy, warm, and trustworthy relationships, you may end up raising adults who are tempted to create other transactional relationships.
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How Can You Make Transactional Relationships Work – 5 Tips
Even if the love has vanished from your marriage and all that is left is a relationship deal, you can make this ‘relationship deal’ work in your best interest. The ultimate aim of any couple coming together is to build a happy life together and there is no need to compromise on them.
With these 5 tips, you can make transactional relationships work:
1. Have fewer expectations
In transactional relationships, you already have your goals and agendas set. This will make you behave and strategize differently than when you enter with no agendas or objectives.
To make a transactional relationship work, it’s best to have clarity about what you want and what you don’t but have fewer expectations and manage them realistically. Enter the relationship with one goal – to give whatever you can, to the extent you can and receive what is meant for you. Anything else is a bonus.
2. Feel protected
By nature, transactional relationships create a safety net for you. It removes insecurity from your relationship. This increased sense of security can help you be more authentic and real. Be it a transactional or non-transactional relationship, it can succeed only when you learn to be more giving and authentic.
Revisit the foundations of your marriage, stop treating it like a mere bread and butter issue and rediscover common goals and interests. You can make a transactional romantic relationship work if your bond isn’t solely governed by the terms of the agreement that brought you together as a couple.
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3. Stop keeping count of who does what
Whatever be the ‘arrangement’ of your relationship, you need to recognize each other’s individual needs and desires. Try and fulfill these needs without compromising your own.
To achieve this, do not obsess over who is doing what, who is getting what, and if you are getting a fair deal in each transaction. Every relationship is about give-and-take but once you are a couple, treat each other like a unit. Learn to give in to your partner without them taking advantage of your benevolence.
Don’t let transactional relationship psychology get in the way of finding true love and connection with your partner. Of course, you have every right to protect your interests. But learn to look at the bigger picture when it comes to protecting yourself, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
4. Share responsibilities and liabilities
If transactional relationships are about sharing in an equal manner, then this principle needs to be applied to both responsibilities and joys. Learn to share problems too and look for solutions together. This is the only way to find true happiness in transactional love.
Shared responsibilities are a hallmark of transactional relationships but don’t hold your partner to ransom if they fail once or twice. Do not forget the larger picture and try to support one another during times of stress.
5. Be careful of financial matters
In both, transactional and non-transactional relationships, money can cause problems. Handle money matters carefully and prioritize financial planning right from the beginning. In transactional relationships, mutual finances are usually discussed beforehand yet they have the potential to cause rifts.
Learn to let go of small challenges to avoid financial stress. Try and turn your relationship into a true partnership instead of making a mental tally on what your partner is doing for you each time and see if you are getting a fair deal.
Marriage is essentially about a spiritual and emotional connection and while transactional relationships may be fine to make things more practical, don’t let that take away the joy of togetherness. Make a habit of following the above tips, practice them until they become a part of your life, and add meaning to your relationship. Let it be a transaction between two interconnected and compatible souls.
It means the person is quite calculative and practical. A transactional person is someone who will act in a situation only if there is some gain for him or her. They apply this principle to all relationships, including their romantic partner.
All relationships are transactional in some way or the other. There is an expectation and there is a reciprocity of that expectation. Be it in husband-wife, siblings, friends, or parent-child relationships, there are always expectations at play.
A transactional marriage is more in the realm of an arranged marriage where compatibility, chemistry, love, etc take a backseat while couples or families see how well-matched they are in terms of economic and societal status and what each partner brings into the marriage.
Reducing expectations, learning to give as much as you are willing to receive, not keeping count of who is doing what are some ways you can stop from being too transactional.