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Relationships: Transaction or Transformation?

Jonathon Aslay is a relationship coach who is known to some as a ‘man whisperer,’ since he teaches women how to understand the male mind; having one himself. Recently, he has said, “The reason why most relationships fail is because without knowing it… they are treating their relationship as transactional. But if one wants to have a relationship that thrives… they are better served by treating it as transformational. Through growth and partnership can a relationship be a success.” 

When I consider the idea of  intimate interaction, it is easy to see how we can fall into patterns of “If I do this for you, you will do that for me.”  It could something as simple as, “If I cook, you will do this dishes.” or as complex as “If I am always transparent and open, I expect that you will always be as well.” While there is nothing wrong with shared responsibility so that one person is not carrying the weight of the union, keeping tabs of how much each is doing to contribute, is a recipe for failure. A tape measure is a necessary tool for building a house, but not a relationship.

At the outset of a potential partnership, it can be helpful to share preferences and expectations; differentiating between the two. The former might fall into the category of “I would like you to change the toilet paper roll or do your dishes, rather than leaving them on the counter.”  The latter could be, “It’s important to me that if you change your plans, that you let me know, rather than pulling the rug out from under me and expect that I will okay with it.” One might be negotiable, while another could be a deal breaker.

Relationships are not 50/50 as we are taught, but rather, 100/100, with each member bringing the sum total of their history, beliefs and baggage to the table. The role models for our dating, mating and relating are often the all too human adults who raised us, as well as those characters portrayed in the media. Not always the healthiest, they too may be repeating patterns.

What breaks the precedent is an initial awareness that the problem exists. If you find yourself in the same argument over and over, chances are you are caught in that transactional spiral. Take inventory of the issues over which you and your partner disagree. Remember that we are not always upset for the reasons we think we are. Conflicts about money may be hiding fear of being at the mercy of someone else’s decisions that could leave you bereft or homeless; whether or not that is a possibility. Arguments about being on time, may be disguising a belief that your partner doesn’t respect you.

A challenge for many couples is that each person has filters through which they perceive ‘right and wrong’. Sara reflects that her long term partner Michelle has a habit of ‘forgetting’ to call her when she is going to be late  Sara often sits at home and fumes about how inconsiderate Michelle is so that by the time she does come through the door, she is, as Michelle has said, “Loaded for bear.” What is underneath is concern for her safety, and relief that she is alright, as well as the contention that “if she doesn’t do it my way, I make her wrong.” That dynamic extends to other issues they face; some linked directly to family history. Sara’s father was an actively drinking alcoholic for most of her childhood. After a night spent at the local bar, he stumbled to his car and never made it home; instead coming into direct and final contact with a telephone pole. The pre-teen young woman still carried the fear that someone she loved might not return. Once she divulged that experience and those terrors in a couples’ counseling session, Michelle became more conscientious about letting Sara know if she running late. A simple text is all it took for stability to be re-established between them.

James and Mara have different cleanliness standards and “It drives me crazy when she leaves messes all over the house. I have two choices,” complains James. “I can either clean up after her or I can let the stuff pile up until I can’t stand it any more. That’s when I blow up and we don’t talk for days after that.” In their therapist’s office, Mara relates, “James has such high and unrealistic standards for how organized the house should be. As soon as I walk in, I need to hang my keys on the hook by the door, put my shoes in our closet, hang up my coat and put the mail on the counter for him to sort through. There is no latitude for anything that diverges from that routine. Both were steadfast in their position that their partner was unreasonable.

Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy  (SARK) and her late partner John Waddell, PhD, wrote a book called Succulent Wild Love : Six Powerful Habits for Feeling More Love More Often. In it, they describe the art of the Joyful Solution, that goes far beyond standard compromise that many couples feel they need to exercise.

“Most people spontaneously look for solutions that meet everyone’s needs. We want to please the people we love and want to please ourselves. It’s when we get stuck that we start to look for a compromise or think someone has to sacrifice.

To create a Joyful Solution, you start with the attitude that everyone can get what they want. That is the biggest factor. Starting from that approach is so powerful because when you believe that everyone can get what they want, you can help the other person get what makes them happy.”

Mara and James found their Joyful Solution by having him take deep breaths when Mara came in and made space for her take her time with putting things away. Together they crafted a reminder sign that they hung in various spots that read:

If you open it, close it.

If you take it out, put it back.

If you drop it, pick it up.

If you make a mess, clean it up.

If you break it, throw it away, repair it or replace it.

Simple as that.

Using humor and creativity made it easier for both to find satisfaction.

That pivotal point is where transaction becomes transformation and perhaps even transcendence as these couples began to rise above their limiting beliefs that kept them entrenched.




Relationships: Transaction or Transformation?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2016). Relationships: Transaction or Transformation?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Jun 2016
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