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When Your Relationship Has Become Transactional! 3 Ways to Create a Healthier Bond in a Couple’s Relationship

When Your Relationship Has Become Transactional! 3 Ways to Create a Healthier Bond in a Couple’s Relationship

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In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it’s easy for relationships to slip into a transactional mode. When partners start keeping score and viewing their interactions through the lens of “I did this, so you should do that,” the emotional connection that once brought joy and intimacy can feel strained. This shift can happen subtly and gradually, often going unnoticed until the warmth and spontaneity that once characterized the relationship are replaced by a mechanical exchange of favors and obligations. Recognizing this pattern and actively working to transform it can revive the deep connection and mutual fulfillment that all couples strive for. So what can we do when we feel that a relationship has become transactional? First, lets learn more about how this occurs.

How Relationships Become Transactional

A relationship becomes transactional when interactions are driven by a sense of duty or expectation rather than genuine affection or spontaneity. This dynamic can emerge for various reasons:

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1) Routine and Complacency: Couples can fall into patterns where certain actions are expected over time. “I cook dinner; you do the dishes” can become less about teamwork and more about fulfilling obligations.

2) Stress and External Pressures: Life’s demands—work, children, financial stress—can lead partners to prioritize efficiency over emotional connection, reducing their interactions to task management.

3) Lack of Communication: When couples stop sharing their thoughts, feelings, and desires, misunderstandings can arise. Partners may start assuming rather than discussing, leading to transactional exchanges.

4) Unresolved Conflicts: Lingering issues can create emotional distance. In place of resolving underlying tensions, couples might resort to transactional interactions to avoid deeper conflict.

Three Ways to Create a Healthier Bond

1) Foster Open Communication: 

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Set aside time each week to discuss how you feel about the relationship, any stress or concerns that have come up, and positive experiences. This practice can help ensure that both partners feel heard and valued. While you want to put in daily effort, a weekly date can make a difference when you find yourselves in an unexpectedly busy week wherein you haven’t been able to take the time you would prefer to have taken in your communication. It’s not about relying on the weekly discussion, but rather having it as an extra space most weeks and a redundancy plan on those occasions that you’ve been ships in the night or overloaded with additional stressors.

In conversation, show empathy and understanding by truly listening to your partner without immediately offering solutions or defenses. Active listening is about listening to your partner with the intention of understanding rather than waiting for your turn to speak or making mental notes about how to debate their experience. The truth is that your perspective and your partner’s may be different about an issue, and that doesn’t mean that either of you is necessarily right or wrong. A lot of communication in relationships is about recognizing that what matters is how a person interprets situations and how each of you can work to support and validate one another. It can take practice, which includes trial and error, to figure out how you and your partner communicate best. When people see us for couples therapy in Woodland Hills, they often begin by saying that they feel misunderstood or unheard in the relationship. You may feel like you’re always saying the same thing or that you’ve heard your partner say the same thing many times, yet nothing is changing.

This time that is set aside to talk is a great opportunity to tell your partner something they did during the week that made you happy, helped you relax, or made you proud. Go a step further and regularly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and qualities of your partner when you can. If you make a point of communicating your gratitude in the moment, and then also bring it up during your conversation later, that will really hit home for your partner. It can be as simple as? “I know I thanked you on Wednesday, but I was truly so grateful when… Thank you so much.” There will be times when your weekly talk is about something tough to talk about; consistency in kindness will go a long way to ease those not-so-happy conversations.

A good sign of strong communication is often how you two navigate those difficult conversations, such as when apologies are due, or a tough decision has to be made. It is up to you and your partner to make the proper space and time for these conversations; the best thing you can do is make sure to have them. The process won’t be perfect, and there will be times when it’s a real struggle to get on the same page. But any attempt that you make with good intentions of problem-solving and mutual support is going to be better than avoiding the issue entirely. Give yourself and your partner grace to stumble through. Remember why you are talking about the issue: because you want it to get better. Remember why you want it to get better: because you’re invested in remaining together and want to live a good life.

2) Prioritize Quality Time Together: 

Portrait of a cheerful happy african american couple drinking wine and having romantic evening at home while kissing and bonding together. Home date night, clinking wine glasses. Relationship Has Become Transactional

It may seem like obvious advice, but prioritizing quality time can easily go by the wayside if you’re not careful. Set aside time specifically for the two of you to reconnect without distractions. Whether it’s a night out or a cozy evening at home, the key is to focus on each other. Engage in activities you both enjoy, fostering a sense of partnership and fun. This could be anything from cooking a new recipe together to taking a weekend hike.

Quality time is essential in relationships; what you invest in one another is what you get out of the partnership. Whether you’ve meant to or not, you have likely pulled from your relationship’s emotional bank at times when you have remembered positive memories instead of being motivated by a current struggle. The emotional bank of a relationship does not replenish itself. We all need that strong accumulation of happy memories, awareness of our partner’s good qualities, and proof and belief that we are loved and cherished. To keep the bank full requires effort and consistency, which is best served by quality time.

When both of you are contributing effort toward building happy memories and showing each other you care, checks and balances can seem to drift away. This means that quality time is a mutual effort; one of you planning everything and the other simply showing up isn’t well-balanced and could quickly contribute to feelings of imbalance and transactions. Avoid this by trading off who plans date night or planning together. Take some of the thought out of planning by creating traditions that you can both contribute to equally.

You might wonder how best to use your quality time; there’s no “best” way outside of something that works for both of you, doesn’t put all the work on one partner’s shoulders, and helps to foster intimacy and happiness. If the two of you have different ideas of quality time, then alternating love languages and their related activities might work best. For example, one of you might feel that cuddling up to watch a movie is quality time because you are both together and sharing physical touch. The other, however, might value words of affirmation and feel that any time spent without having a conversation isn’t quality time. There is no reason why the two of you can’t find a way to both feel seen. Maybe you start with a dinner where you can talk freely, followed by a movie. Maybe one week, you go out for dinner, and the next, you stay home and curl up on the couch.

Consider if there are activities you’d like to share with your partner. Are there places you’d like to go? Local (or not-so-local) attractions can offer a great way to share experiences with your partner. If you are able, you might set aside a handful of days every so often to go somewhere new, such as a bucket list travel destination. If that doesn’t work for your situation, you might want to consider museums, galleries, exhibits, markets, cultural landmarks, and other local date ideas that can broaden your mind and give you something fresh to discuss.

Prioritizing can get tricky sometimes. Between yourself and your partner, it is up to you to determine how long you feel you can go without having a decent amount of quality time together. It may be that you need half an hour at the end of each day and a weekly evening together. It may be that you don’t really care how it shakes out so long as you can have 36 hours alone together every three weeks. Whatever works for your lifestyle, family obligations, financial situation, schedule, and needs is what is best to aim for. Other peoples’ standards of quality time aren’t your own, and that’s okay.

3) Rebuild Emotional Intimacy:

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It is all too easy to get “too busy” for emotional intimacy; before you know it, you may have been feeling detached from your partner for a long time. Simple acts of physical touch, like holding hands, hugging, or cuddling, can strengthen emotional connection. These gestures remind your partner that they are loved and cherished. Share your hopes, fears, and dreams with each other. Opening up about your inner world fosters a deeper emotional connection and trust. 

No matter where you are in the relationship and how concerned you are about it being transactional, there may be feelings of resentment that have built up about certain issues. When we resent how we are treated, we begin to feel disrespected and may lose respect for our partner for not being able to show up for us in the way we desire. Maintaining mutual respect takes effort and awareness, which can be worked on over time. When we respect and are respected, it is easier to let our guard down and lean into emotional intimacy.

If you have been struggling for a while, you may choose to utilize in-person or online marriage therapy in order to facilitate some of the rebuilding. In our Woodland Hills couples therapy sessions, we see many folks who desperately want to feel that deep connection and trust but have a hard time navigating the conversations and behavioral adjustments required in order to get there.

Feelings of emotional intimacy foster a sense of safety and security that counteract the stressors and external pressures that can distract you from connecting. When you connect on an emotional level and lean into your affection for your partner, you can circumvent instincts to reduce your communication to task management. Yes, there will still be times when something comes up that needs to be dealt with. But the more you practice viewing your partner as a friend, a confidante, and a safe emotional space, the easier it will be to manage situations and then transition back to open communication and mutual care.

Consider how you want to express your hopes, dreams, and fears. If you have trouble communicating about those things in general, you might seek your own individual counseling so that you can practice stating your thoughts and feelings. Also, take the time to determine how you will respond to your partner’s sharing. Sometimes, all it takes is something as simple as, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m so glad you told me.” Reassuring phrases like, “I love when you talk about the things you’re passionate about,” or, “I’m happy you shared that with me!” go a long way.

Decide for yourself how you will feel heard, supported, and protected. Be curious about how your partner will determine those same things. Give yourself permission to ask questions, and state desires. It is not your or your partner’s job to read minds. How will you know when you feel understood? Sometimes, it’s just a feeling. But often, if we dig deep, we can uncover what it was that truly made us feel that way. Sometimes, it will take longer to see results, as there are some things that only a change in behavior and consistency with that change can remedy. Remember to be patient with yourself if and when you are the one adjusting your actions and with your partner if and when they are the one doing that work. The behavior along the way is the real indicator of effort.

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As a marriage counselor in Woodland Hills, I know that many couples who have deep love and respect for one another can fall into routines and habits that don’t serve them. Trying to “stay even” in a relationship evolves out of a sense of giving more, doing more, caring more, sacrificing more, and trying harder than the other person. Sometimes, we need to take a step back and see that we aren’t showing up more or less; rather, we are showing up differently than our partner. When we take time to build and nurture intimacy and conversation, we equip ourselves to solve problems as they arise and move forward rather than pulling away out of self-preservation.

Couples Therapy In Woodland Hills

A couple’s relationship has its ebbs and flows. Not every season in your marriage will look the same. When you are working with a marriage counselor, the goal is not to create this unattainable perfect relationship but to find tools and resolutions that give you an authentic one. 

With Couples Therapy in Woodland Hills, CA, our Gottman-trained couple’s counselors will explore the different areas of your relationship that have been damaged while parts of it have remained strong because we are all more than the sum of our parts.

Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Admin Team today!

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