Transactional Relationships

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Last week a friend called. We hadn’t spoken in months.  We have been friends for over 20 years and always chat openly. She wasn’t after a favour or needing something from me. Just a call to refresh our connection. As we spoke I was sharing parts of my past 18 months, and as she listened, she made the comment that what I was talking about is really what psychologists call "transactional relationships'.

I agreed with her statement.

If a friendship is not mutually beneficial, respectful and without conditions then I would wonder whether it really is friendship. 

A true friendship happens when you have absolutely nothing tangible to give, yet this amazing person stands with you. This is a true friend. 

One of my all time favourite movies as a late teenager (and beyond) is the greatest surfing movie Big Wednesday. There is a scene in the movie which greatly impacted me and still does today.

The story is told of 3 mates who grow up together surfing, partying and living. As they get older their lives take different paths. Matt becomes a drunk and on this one occasion, he is playing chicken with cars when it all goes wrong and he causes a car crash. Matt quickly goes from the road back to the beach which was right next to the car crash scene.

Matt’s lifelong mate Jack arrives. Jack is a very straight, play by the rules guy and he walks over to Matt on the beach. Jack is the life guard of this beach and responded to the crash in which Matt caused.

Matt see’s Jack standing there and smiles at his friend, standing up to say hi. Jack waited for Matt to stand and then punched him, with all his strength in the face, and then demanded he gets off the beach because he is nothing but a drunk.

The scene now goes to ‘Bear’ the famous surfboard shaper and friend to the surfers. Matt walks in and Bear sees his black eye. Bear asks what happened and Matt responds with: “I caused an accident, Jack punched me.” Bear replies: “Jack punched you… Jack! When things are going right you don’t need anyone… it’s when things go wrong that we need our friends!”

When things go wrong we need our friends.

I have learnt so much about friendships over the past 18 months. I never realised that so many of them were transactional relationships… while I had something to give, and they had something to receive, I was their best mate. (As they say “A friend in need is a friend indeed!!”) The day came when I couldn’t give them anything due to my own brokenness. Perhaps it was a case of “out of sight out of mind”, perhaps some weren’t sure what to say to me if it wasn’t to ask or tell something, but I never-ever received a phone call, SMS, visit or inbox from 95% of them.  In fact, most won’t even like anything I post on Facebook. It's as though I am dead to them.

As I pondered this thought this morning on my 6km walk, I considered the fact that some transactional relationships are incredibly healthy and necessary. I was thinking about my mechanic who I get along great with. I need his skills and service and he needs my money for his business and ultimately family. What a great transaction this is, for both of us.

But this thinking brought some aspects of life into greater focus for me. I think I agree with the statement:

“we have less true friendships than we think we have, and we are a true friend to less people than we think we are.” (

When your world is turned upside down and you don’t know how you’re going to even face another day…I am telling you from experience both personally and as a counsellor, that the worst thing that can happen to us is to be isolated.

When things go wrong we need our friends to be closer than ever. - A friend in (my) need is a (true) friend indeed!

There is at least one good thing in this experience… I now know which friends go beyond mere transactions, I feel like I know who cares and who doesn’t.

For me, a great friend does not have to call everyday… some will, most won’t. The friend I spoke of at the beginning of this blog and I hadn’t spoken for over 6 months but we know we are committed to each other’s well-being and simply pickup from where we left off.

Transactional friendships do and will forever exist and some of them are great. But we all need true friends in our lives… make sure you are a true friend because I believe without a doubt you reap what you sow.


By Steve Morrison


Some interesting quotes below

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.” (The Four Loves)
“True friends don’t spend time gazing into each other’s eyes. They may show great tenderness towards each other but they face in the same direction – toward common projects, goals – above all, towards a common Lord.” 
“Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly, to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.” (The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 2)
“I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” (The Four Loves)