Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Worldview Orientations in Close Relationships: Development and Initial Validation of the Contract-Covenant Continuum

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Worldview Orientations in Close Relationships: Development and Initial Validation of the Contract-Covenant Continuum

Article excerpt

Christian approaches to close relationships in North America have been understood in covenantal terms between married persons, dating couples, and close friends, and have been contrasted with contractual or ego-based ones. Covenantal approaches value the dyad, interdependence, faith community involvement, and communication strategies to engender long-term commitment whereas contractual approaches value self, independence, negotiation for personal needs, and freedom to exit relationships when costs outweigh benefits. The authors gathered survey data among 713 subjects over three studies in order to develop a 22-item scale to measure covenantal and contractual worldview dimensions in close relationships. Scale items were examined for inter-item reliability, factor structure, evidence for construct validity, and predictive power of relational satisfaction. The resulting Contract-Covenant Continuum showed good reliability and multi-dimensionality. Evidence was also gathered to support concurrent, construct, and criterion validity as well as the scale's capacity to predict relational satisfaction and equity.


It is common in Christian thinking to consider human relationships as a covenant between people who relate under the blessing of God, and to praise this idea as counterpoint to relationships that are economically contractual. This pattern is common in popular books (Chapman, 2003; Lowery, 2002) and academic sources (Balswick & Balswisk, 2006; Brinig, 2000; Brinig & Nock, 2005; Bromley & Busching, 1988; Ripley, Worthington, Bromley & Kemper, 2005; Strom, 2013) that describe marriages, families and friendships. These sources frequently cast contractual approaches as having a baseline egoism that values personal development, independence, personal needs, and the freedom to exit when these values are threatened. By contrast, covenantal approaches are depicted with a baseline communalism that values dyad development, interdependence, support within a faith community, and sacrificing personal needs for sake of relational longevity.

One group seeking to grasp these constructs empirically within the marriage context is Ripley et al. (2005), who build on ideas by Bromley (1997) and Bromley and Bushing (1988). In Bromley's (1997) conception, contract and covenant are contrasted as valuing, respectively, either: 1) the individual person or the marriage dyad, 2) self-actualization for personal development or sacrifice for sake of the marriage, 3) skill in negotiation and conflict management or vow-making and keeping, and 4) relying on professional counselling to restore order in struggling marriages or relying on spiritual resources (prayer, theology, church). Their Marital Values Orientation toward Wedlock or Self-actualization (VOWS) Scale requires that subjects select between paired statements, one contractual and the other covenantal, on twenty-six topics with "contract" items scoring one, and "covenant" items scoring two. For the 26-item Marital VOWS Scale, the coefficient alphas across three studies (Ripley et al., 2005) ranged from .86 to .90, indicating good internal consistency, and mean scores ranged from 40.11 to 43.50 with standard deviations ranging from 5.15 to 5.53.

While the Marital VOWS scale appears to be a valid measure of values, its language is psychological and sociological, rather than religious or spiritual. In particular Bromley's fourth dimension, regarding whether couples turn to either spiritual resources or professional expertise for marital help, is under-emphasized. Only two items refer to this dimension: Item 21 refers to spirituality ("two becoming one"), while Item 26, which refers to seeking a counselor, discusses intervention. The remaining twenty-four items represent Bromley's (1997) other three dimensions.

This observation gives impetus to the current project on two levels. One is to recognize, as Witte and Ellison (2005) have argued, that "covenant" is "an ancient and religiously laden term" that comes bundled with spiritual values, beliefs, and practices (p. …

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