Relationship Tools That Work

Walter Martin, MA, LMFT

Walter P Martin, LMFT

Relationship Tools That Work

By Walter Patrick Martin, MA, LMFT

I have found Dr. Eric Berne really be a leader of his time in relationship guidance and understand how our self-worth, transactions and behavioral patterns between individuals can really assist in having healthier relationships. We should learn from this simple method to understand your wife or husband before you throw in the towel and get a divorce. Is it not worth the effort to learn more about how your communication is causing part of the problem. Watch the videos below and learn more about yourself and how you might be communicating.

  • The human brain acts in many ways like a camcorder, vividly recording events. While that event may not necessarily be able to be consciously retrieved by the owner, the event always exists in the brain.

  • Both the event and the feelings experienced during that event are stored in the brain. The event and the feelings are locked together, and neither one can be recalled without the other.

  • When an individual replays his or her experiences, he or she can replay them in such a vivid form that the individual experiences again the same emotions he or she felt during the actual experience. Or, as Berne’s student Thomas A. Harris said “I not only remember how I felt, I feel the same way now”2

  • Individuals are able to exist in two states simultaneously. Individuals replaying certain events are able to experience the emotions associated with those events, but they are also able to objectively talk about the events at the same time.

Check Out these Youtube Videos on How To Understand Your Partner.

Dr. Eric Berne is the author of Games People Play, the groundbreaking book in which he introduces Games and Transactional Analysis to the world.  According to Dr. Berne, games are ritualistic transactions or behavior patterns between individuals that can indicate hidden feelings or emotions.  A runaway success, Games People Play spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list in the mid 1960s – longer than any non-fiction book over the preceding decade. Games People Play and Transactional Analysis have gone on to influence and inspire millions of people, including Thomas A. Harris, author of I’m OK – You’re OKand Muriel James, author of Born to Win.

Five million copies later and nearly fifty years after it first debuted, Games People Play remains popular and continues to sell across the world.  It has been translated into almost 20 different languages, with millions of laypeople and trained psychotherapists employing Dr. Berne’s techniques.

So far, the two transactions described can be considered complementary transactions. In a complementary transaction, the response must go back from the receiving ego state to the sending ego state. For example, a person may initiate a transaction directed towards one ego state of the respondent. The respondent’s ego state detects the stimuli, and then that particular ego state (meaning the ego state to which the stimuli was directed) produces a response. According to Dr. Berne, these transactions are healthy and represent normal human interactions. As Berne says in Games People Play “communication will proceed as long as transactions are complementary.”9

Crossed Transaction as seen in Transactional Analysis using structural diagrams

Crossed Transaction

However, not all transactions between humans are healthy or normal. In those cases, the transaction is classified as a crossed transaction. In a crossed transaction, an ego state different than the ego state which received the stimuli is the one that responds. The diagram to the right shows a typical crossed transaction. An example is as follows:

Agent’s Adult: “Do you know where my cuff links are?” (note that this stimuli is directed at the Respondents Adult).

Respondent’s Child: “You always blame me for everything!”10

This is one the classic crossed transactions that occurs in marriage. Instead of the Respondent’s Adult responding with “I think they’re on the desk”, it is the Respondent’s Child that responds back.


Berne, Eric. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1961. Page 4.

2 Harris, Thomas A. I’m OK – You’re OK. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York, 1967. Page 12.

3 Berne, Eric. Games People Play. Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1964. Page 29

Berne, Eric. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. Page 13.

Berne, Eric. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. Page 4.

Berne, Eric. Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy. Page 15.

7 Harris, Thomas A. I’m OK – You’re OK. Page 32.

8 Berne, Eric. Games People Play. Page 29.

9 Berne, Eric. Games People Play. Page 30.

10 Berne, Eric. Games People Play. Page 31.

11 Berne, Eric. Games People Play. Page 15.

12 Stewart, Ian and Joines, Vann. TA Today: A New Introduction to Transactional Analysis. Lifespace Publishing, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 1987.

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