Everything You Need To Know About Transactional Relationships

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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 calling the 15-year-old union, a ‘transactional marriage’, thus further giving credence to a unique relationship arrangement that is about anything but love.

So, what exactly are transactional relationships? With the help of psychologist Shazia Saleem (Masters in Psychology), who specializes in separation and divorce counseling, let’s take a look at all you’ll ever need to know about such kinds of relationships.

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.

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.

Related Reading: 15 Characteristics Of A Healthy Relationship

It’s only in western cultures 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 don’t 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.

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Perhaps the biggest difference between transactional love and unconditional love is that the former depends on a contingency, of what each individual is getting out of it. Just like Trump got an arm candy and Melania got fame, each person in such a dynamic wishes to gain something out of it, be it tangible or intangible.

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.

Whether there are too many dangers of transactional relationships or more benefits than cons is yours to decide. Nonetheless, here are some typical characteristics of transactional relationships:

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.

However, that’s not to say that such relationships are completely immune to troubles. Of course, with expectations come disappointments, and the way each transactional relationship deals with setbacks depends on them and the conflict resolution tactics they employ. There’s also the risk of people changing once they enter into such relationships.

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

transactional relationship meaning
A prenup specifies the terms and conditions of the marriage

The signing of a prenup before entering marriage is also a form of transactional relationship. A prenuptial agreement 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.

5. A transactional relationship can be healthy

“They can be healthy if both the partners maintain their part with integrity and honesty. If both are ready to take responsibility for their own words and actions, and choose to be equally responsible for whatever circumstances or situations they are into, there’s no reason why they can’t thrive. At the end of the day, it is a reciprocal kind of a relationship and comes with a lot of expectations from each other,” says Shazia, talking about how a transactional romantic relationship may just bear fruit.

Related Reading: 25 Most Common Relationship Problems

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.

When we consider transactional love vs unconditional love, it can be argued that the former doesn’t feature a pure sense of love, and intimacy that is based on profit and loss isn’t meant to last. Whether that holds true or not is subjective to each person, since we all view relationships differently. As for now, let’s take a look at some of the advantages:

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

“The main advantages of transactional relationships are equality, independence in the relationship, and the fact that there’s no blame game. There’s often clarity and openness, as it comes with a pre-determined mindset and expectations of what each partner has to do.

“The give and take are clearly established, and each partner knows what they have to do to be able to reap the benefits. As long as both partners have talked about what they expect and how they expect to get it, there usually isn’t any confusion,” says Shazia.

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 a transactional romantic relationship

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Splitting of assets, noting down responsibilities becomes a tad bit easier in transactional relationships

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.

Speaking on the benefits of prenups, lawyer Tahini Bhushan previously told Bonobology, “In the unfortunate event of a divorce, the presence of a prenup takes the burden off the court. They don’t have to undergo a lot of litigation when the parties are dragging each other down, trying to bleed each other dry. Divorce counseling might even take place and there’s a good chance the whole process becomes a lot easier.”

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.

Related Reading: How To Build An Interdependent Relationship?

3 Disadvantages Of Transactional Relationships

“Everything comes with its share of disadvantages and advantages. As with everything else, transactional relationships are far from perfect,” says Shazia. 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.

People change, your values and needs change, and things never really go the way you assume they will. Let’s take a look at some of the dangers of transactional relationships, so you can understand that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.

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 a 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.

“Many times, it turns out to be very unethical in nature, and partners may end up exploiting each other. One may develop more expectations and they both can become extremely selfish. They’re mostly always thinking about their personal gain rather than what’s good for the relationship. They’re always trying to further their own interests and thinking, “Who’s getting the better end of the deal?” says Shazia.

“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

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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.

4. Partners may end up competing with each other

“If you look at the examples of transactional relationships, you’ll find that partners can often be in competition with each other about what they’re getting out of it. They tend to forget about the essence of being in a relationship, the essence of being nurturing and loving toward each other. They’re always in a cut-throat competition with each other.

“I’m giving so much for this relationship, what am I getting in return?” becomes the driving force behind the way they conduct themselves in the relationship,” says Shazia. Since a transactional relationship is largely driven by personal gain, there’s always the risk that one person may end up feeling jealous if they think the other is getting a better deal. That doesn’t sound a lot like unconditional love, does it?

Related Reading: 11 Signs You Are In A Codependent Marriage

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.

“Anything in moderation will work wonders for a relationship. Even in a transactional relationship, if both the partners think of each other, if they share a commitment to improving their relationship, it will definitely work out for their betterment,” says Shazia. With these 5 tips, you can make transactional relationships work:

1. Have fewer expectations

“Transactions relationships can work out if both the partners maintain healthy boundaries and limit their expectations from each other. They must focus on themselves and think about how they can become a better partner, and how they can improve their relationship. Just because they’ve entered into a sort of profit and gain dynamic doesn’t mean they shouldn’t think of other things that can improve their relationship,” says Shazia.

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 and manage the expectations 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 romantic 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.

Related Reading: Are You A Toxic Couple? Take This Test To Find Out

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 let the petty issues get between you two.

4. To avoid dangers of transactional relationship, share responsibilities and liabilities

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Learn to let go of small financial challenges

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.


1. What does it mean if someone is transactional?

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.

2. Are all relationships transactional?

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.

3. What is a transactional marriage?

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.

4. How do I stop being transactional?

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.

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