11 Must-Know Characteristics Of A Transactional Relationship

Transactional love might sound like an oxymoron, and Hollywood hasn't helped show the reality of these emotionless relationships. 

One of the most sensationalized transactional relationships was Christian Grey and Anatasia Steele in 50 Shades of Grey, complete with a legal non-disclosure agreement and terms of the deal.

Transactional relationships aren't always about sex.

In fact, there are many more “benefits” than meet the eye.

Financial security, power, and lifestyle could all be motivating factors. 

What Is a Transactional Relationship?

In the simplest terms, a transactional relationship has nothing to do with instant attraction, feelings, or comfort.

It's all about the benefits each party gets out of it.

Transactional relationships are a business deal and not a love connection. 

While the majority of transactional relationships are assumed to be marriage, whether willing or arranged, there are other types, including:

  • Transactional Dating: One or both parties tolerate the relationship until “someone better comes along.” 
  • Transactional Colleagues: Forming a bond with a colleague, not as collaborative, but more like “thick as thieves” to earn higher accolades. It can also be a quid pro quo between a boss and an employee. 
  • Transactional Friends: Cady Heron and “The Plastics” had a transactional friendship in Mean Girls. You only befriend someone when you want something from them, and they offer the same “friendship” in return.
  • Transactional Family: A family member could guilt another family member into suggesting “they owe them” for things done previously. 

11 Must-Know Characteristics Of A Transactional Relationship

The hallmark of a transactional relationship is that a person will get more than they give and will give as little as possible to fulfill the “transaction” with the other party. 

Instead of counting the years together, you count the number of benefits you've received on any given day and hold your partner to task.

1. Getting More Than You Give

Transactional dating or marriages require clear lines of what you get vs. what they get. Each person always wants to get the better end of the deal. 

You might get to be a stay-at-home wife to a rich doctor, but you're expected to keep fit and host dinner parties weekly.

If the wife decides to be lazy for a week, the husband can withhold funds because she's not living up to her end of the transaction.

2. Having Clear Expectations 

You can't go into a game of transactional love without setting the ground rules and sticking to them. 

There are no bonus prizes or extra credits in either direction. A co-ed gets college paid for, and she's readily available anytime, no holds barred when a gentleman caller needs her. 

The first time a check doesn't cash or the co-ed has other plans, drama ensues. There are many Lifetime movies that back this up. 

3. Feeling Resentment

In a transaction, everyone wants to get the better end of the deal and will count dollars, minutes, meals, jewelry – whatever the transaction item is – hoping to catch the other one slacking off. 

When you feel like you're giving more than you get, you'll start to resent the other person. They'll be doing the same to you. It's a toxic tug-of-war, and everyone is losing their grip on reality. 

4. Being a Good Negotiator

Even Christian Grey and Ana had to renegotiate their deal to balance out the needs of one person in lieu of the other.

This isn't always going to work, but you've got to come to the bargaining table prepared to lose it all. 

In the example of a housewife who is expected to make dinner every night for her hard-working husband, the husband might be fed up with meatloaf once a week and want something fancier, like lobster or mutton barbecue from Kentucky.

The wife believes this is outside of the agreement terms and asks for something more – maybe a housekeeper so she can spend more time hunting down original recipes while overnighting lobster from Maine. 

5. Being In It Unknowingly

This one might hurt, but let's just rip the Band-Aid off. If your partner is always wanting things done for them but does very little for you in return, you might unknowingly be in a transactional relationship. 

One partner just wants company and companionship but won't commit. The other person adorns them with love and attention, thinking they are building a life together.

If you are consistently not getting enough back from your partner, you should evaluate if they treat this relationship as transactional. 

6. Having a Narcissistic Partner

Being with a narcissist is the epitome of a transactional relationship because that person cannot feel human emotions or see people as anything but objects to fulfill their needs. 

While there's a whole mess of problems that come with narcissism, the other person will always be left feeling like they aren't good enough.

They'll potentially suffer mental health effects for years to come once they escape this transactional dating or marriage. 

7. Documenting The Agreement

Transactional dating might have ground rules set with a conversation and handshake, but prenup agreements are a must when it comes to marriage.

Deal breakers are laid out, and it's clear if the relationship goes south what each side will take with them or leave behind.

Let's look at an example. As described in The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump, the first lady wasn't going to move into the White House in 2017 until she made sure her son with Donald Trump, Barron, was treated with the same importance as President Trump's other children who were much older.

She renegotiated the prenup and wouldn't set foot in the residence until the ink was dry. 

8. Experiencing Fallout with Friends and Family

People in a willing transactional love story are 100% comfortable with the arrangement. They might have friends and family members who not only dislike their decision but begin to cut ties because of it. 

It can cause a strain that feeds into the resentment a person is already feeling because losing friends and family wasn't part of the deal. 

9. Creating Transactional Love 

Even the healthiest relationships include individuals who have a “love language.” If one person's love language is “receiving gifts” and the other person's love language is “words of affirmation,” there's a great transaction to be made. 

One person will shower the other one with gifts, while the second person will spend their days fawning over their partner.  

In situations like this, everyone gets what they want from the beginning, and there's no concern for things like shared interests or constant hugging and touching. 

10. Accepting and Even Liking the Arrangement

If you have a friend who is doing transactional dating or has a history of transactional relationships, don't be the judge and jury. Some people are quite comfortable in the solace and familiarity of agreed-upon boundaries. 

If both parties have been unlucky in love or even lost the “love of their life,” a transactional relationship can fill painful voids. 

Some cultures have a long history of transactional relationships to forge bonds between countries, prevent wars, or continue a lineage, like with arranged marriages. People on this very planet never even think about finding love. 

11. Accepting the Possible Consequences 

The Proposal. What's Your Number? How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Indecent Proposal. These movies all started as transactional and blossomed into love stories.

They were called Romantic Comedies, but they all involved transactional dating and setting an unrealistic stage.

If you have any hope that your transaction will cash into true love, or you're looking for that storybook ending, your only transaction will be the price of a broken heart. 

Pros and Cons of a Transactional Relationship

There isn't any kind of relationship that doesn't have pros and cons, and transactional relationships are no different.


  • You consistently get what you want.
  • You are poised never to be let down.
  • The relationship isn't messy or left to assumptions. 
  • You can always renegotiate if both parties are willing.
  • You are clear about what is expected of you.


  • You constantly have to make sure the other person gets what they want.
  • You begin to keep tabs on who is doing more. 
  • Expectations from either party can become frustrating and imbalanced.
  • One mistake could mean the end of the transaction.
  • You could think you are in a normal relationship and realize your partner treats it as transactional.

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Transactional Relationship vs. Transformational: 7 Key Differences

You could look back on every relationship you've had in life and define if they were transactional relationships or transformational relationships. 

You are concerned about getting more when you're in a transactional relationship. When you're in a transformational relationship, it's a relationship that grows and adapts as circumstances arise. 

1. Resentment vs. Resilience

Every relationship needs a balance of power. A transactional relationship defines power from the start, with no wiggle room.

A transformative relationship adapts to things like new job offers, childcare, and growing old together. 

2. Content vs. Happy

Transactional love can be very comfortable. You're not over-the-moon happy, but you're also not wondering why your partner isn't home every night by 9:00 pm.

A transformative relationship makes you happy, even when times are tough because you're running the love marathon, not a sprint to the next “win.” 

3. Fair Enough vs. Fireworks

Fair enough defines the agreed-upon transaction. You get this; they get that. Period. End of story. You don't make any more effort than is necessary to get what's coming to you.

Transformative relationships are kisses under fireworks, the partner who grabs you for a kiss in the grocery store because they just “couldn't help themselves.” It's more about adoration than accumulation. 

4. Other Half vs. Better Half

Transactional relationships, when designed correctly, equally benefit each person. One person doesn't come out ahead.

Transformative relationships are built in the heart and soul. You build each other up and improve each other with support, love, and sacrifice. You'd NEVER sacrifice anything in a transactional relationship. 

5. Smooth Sailing vs. Surviving the Storm

The waters of a good transactional relationship are calm and smooth. Each party knows what's expected of them, and comforting the other about getting fired might not be on that list.

You build a transformational relationship in tough times and how you handle them together. You become stronger for the challenges you've faced and how much more endeared you are to each other because of it. 

6. Low-Risk vs. High-Risk

A great quote from the movie Rounders that pertains to this topic is, “You can't lose what you don't put in the middle.” Transactional relationships are low risk because the expectations are laid out. If you don't get what you are owed, you can bail out.

Transformative relationships put your whole self – heart, soul, fears, weaknesses – into a partner you trust. You risk heartbreak, but you also have so much to gain in a life partner who respects your needs as they come, not as a pre-determined entity. 

7. Me vs. Us

Transactional relationships will always focus on “Me.” What am I getting from this? Am I getting what we agreed upon? Is this enough? Do we need to renegotiate?

Transformative relationships focus on a single entity that is “Us.” What do we want out of life? How many kids will we have? Should we move to the city because my partner wants that? Or is it better for our life together to stay in the suburbs?

Final Thoughts

One commonality between the relationship types is that both partners must agree. The real danger comes when someone believes it to be a transformational relationship, only to find out they are nothing more than a transaction. 

There's a way to do each relationship type without anyone getting hurt. Honesty and transparency are the keys to both.