How Our Increasingly Transactional Culture is Undermining Relationships

How Our Increasingly Transactional Culture is Undermining Relationships August 10, 2018

With maxims like ‘what’s in it for me’, ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’, and ‘quid pro quo’, our society is becoming more and more transactional.

Every relationship, whether working, platonic, or romantic, bears this mark. In serving others, we carefully calculate what we can ask in return. We take the deposit with an expectation of future withdrawal.

Even in a world increasingly concerned with genuineness, we find nothing wrong with a mutually beneficial agreement. You like my Instagram post and I’ll like yours. Doesn’t matter how either party actually feels. Advantageous transactions trump authenticity.



We did not stumble into this society. For generations, the American way has been about open market consumerism. Which as an economic exercise has certain values and benefits that do not translate well when we take the same approach to matters in other arenas.

The pursuit of the American Dream has been polluted into a no-holds-bar, do-whatever-it-takes battle royale. The most shrewd of us have learned that the best way to get a lot is to give a little. We keep score. We make a note. And the idea that we owe each other – not just financially, but relationally, morally – has become the subtle currency of relationship.


And So

There are a host of relational problems that result.

We have become experts in selfishness. Cloak and dagger, subtle manipulation, and secret hoarding have become routine. Second nature. We don’t even know we’re doing it until we burst out with a “you owe me!” type of statement. Within each of us, we have created a secret room. We protect even the most precious in our lives from seeing what we are really up to. Sometimes we keep it away from our own consciousness. But in this secret lab, we are concocting plans, keeping score, counting and planning. And our math is never straight forward, always a little biased toward our end.

The danger is that our secret cunning poisons the design of true intimacy, the value of community, and the unified purpose of meaningful relationships. We cannot love one another, in the truest sense of the word, without sharing all that we are. And we cannot share life if we are secret enemies, spies who trade openly under the guise of sacrifice and friendship.

Intimacy is about sacrifice and fulfillment, in equal measure. We use the pursuit of fulfillment to justify our unwillingness to sacrifice. We vilify the idea of sacrifice and submission to mean the loss of self, the truest evil in modern society. However, buying into the lie that either side of the coin excludes the other is devastating, in equal portions, to who we are and what we were created to be. Love is about being your full self and sacrificing your selfishness for a greater good; it sounds like a paradox (it is a paradox!), but it is the true makeup of healthy relationship. You do not need to kill one for the sake of the other.


A Better Way

Transactional power is one of five types of influence. It has its merit in certain situations, such as teaching a child proper behavior through reward and punishment. But it also has its limits.

The fullest and most effective type of influence is called Transformational Leadership. Our world is morally corrupt because we have not allowed ourselves to be transformed by the influence of others. We have elevated a lower form of influence to the most prominent role.

The only way our relationships can be redeemed is for our approach to them to transform. Our perspective needs to change. We can’t make it to a meaningful life solely through transactions, and we can’t trade our way up to a purposeful existence. We need something more. Something true. Something Transformational.

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