Interact, Don’t Transact With Your Spouse!

Too often couples are advised to create a transactional form of marriage — “you satisfy my need, I satisfy yours.”

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Interact, Don’t Transact With Your Spouse!

If you want a marriage that supports you and your spouse as individuals while also enhancing your relationship, you need to know the difference between a transactional marriage and a marriage that is based on interacting with one another.

Marriage as a Business

Too often couples are advised to create a transactional form of marriage — “You satisfy my need, I satisfy yours.” The notion of transaction comes from the business world where people do things for each other with the expectation of reciprocation. For example, in marriage, a husband “helps” out with vacuuming the house and his wife “helps” out by taking out the trash. John Gottman, the well-known marriage expert, argues that this kind of unwritten agreement leads to partners keeping a mental running tally of who has done what for whom.[1] This kind of unspoken contract fosters anger and resentment. Happy marriages are not about 50/50 transactions.

What a Happy Marriage Looks Like

In happy marriages, partners find a way to feel good about themselves, share tasks, and feel good about their partner and their relationship. But there doesn’t seem to be a well-defined way to talk about how to interact to accomplish household tasks, make career decisions, decide about children, make love, etc.

How to Negotiate Collaboratively

I settled on the concept of negotiating collaboratively as the process by which issues are identified, discussed, and resolved in a way that incorporates both spouses' wishes and wants and cements our relationship. Here is an example of how negotiating collaboratively works:
The Issue: Lucas and Sara had a disagreement about where Sara should park when she drove the car to the mall. Lucas did not want Sara to park in the parking garage, which was her preference. Here are the steps in the negotiation about where Sara will park when she goes to the mall.

  • Each of you should be able to explain why what you prefer to do is important to you.
  • Each of you should give the other person the opportunity to express his/her preference, without interruption.
  • Watch for hidden personal agendas you may have. If you are feeling anxious or angry, talk about it.

More About How Collaborative Negotiation Works

Where to park the car is, of course, a simple example of how to negotiate collaboratively. In fact, my book, A Marriage of Equals, (link) provides an in-depth discussion of negotiating collaboratively. The book also tells you how to be prepared to negotiate in a cooperative and collaborative way. It’s a good (and easy) read!


A transactional relationship is not a good basis for a long-lasting, satisfying marriage.
Marriage can be organized around negotiating wishes and wants.
Negotiating collaboratively with one another is about commitment to your marriage.


1. Gottman, J. & N. Silver. (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.

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