Relationships: When All Is Not As It Seems

Understanding The Hidden Depths of Our Relationships Using Transactional Analysis

Holly Hartley
8 min readFeb 26, 2021


In the first article, we examined the nuts about bolts of Transactional Analysis and how we can use it to understand and even improve our relationships with other people.

In this article, we focus on the most complex transactions — where there is more going on beneath the surface of the spoken word.

When All is Not as it Seems

We’ve all been in one of those conversations where it’s hard work.

It’s stilted, awkward, and exhausting.

The conversation doesn’t flow, and you have to work hard to keep the momentum going. There is no natural order. Instead, it’s stuttered and forced.

Such conversations are all about the ‘unsaid.’ The real message is hiding beneath the surface of the social interaction.

In Transactional Analysis, we call these interactions ulterior transactions.

Ulterior Transactions

Ulterior transactions happen all over the place. They can be both pleasurable and painful.

Flirtatious games are a classic example of an exhilarating and enjoyable ulterior transaction.

Try as you might, you cannot bring yourself to tell that gorgeous creature in the juice bar that seeing them is the highlight of your week.

Instead, you fumble awkwardly with your words, trying to act all funny and relaxed because you don’t care — you’re cool with it all (Do you seriously expect us to believe that?!).

On the inside, the story is very different. It’s excruciating and pleasurable all at the same time. The dance, or ‘game’ as Berne calls such interactions, is utterly enthralling.

It’s a Mixed Bag

Sadly, ulterior transactions are not always so enjoyable.

On other occasions, the existence of a sub-text is downright unpleasant. There is no fun in these games. You can cut the atmosphere with a knife. You feel awkward and unsafe. One wrong move could be fatal. You don’t know what to say for the…



Holly Hartley

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