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A Study of Contextual Therapy Theory's Relational Ethics in Couples in Therapy


  • Marriage and Family Therapy, Alliant International University, California School of Professional Psychology, 2030 West El Camino, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95833.

Couple and Family Therapy Program, Department of Human Development and Family Science, The Ohio State University, 135 Campbell Hall, 1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210 (


The hallmark feature of fairness in relationships in Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy's contextual therapy theory has largely remained untested among couples in therapy. Fairness here refers to the broad concept of “give and take,” which is influenced by experiences of trustworthiness, loyalty conflicts, and a sense of entitlement or indebtedness in relationships. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of fairness, measured by the Relational Ethics Scale, on relationship satisfaction in a sample of 68 heterosexual couples seeking therapy. Findings indicated a significant correlation between both partners' reports of unfairness and relationship dissatisfaction. Further analysis using Hierarchical Linear Modeling showed that male partners' report of greater fairness in their relationship predicted a greater discrepancy in partners' report of relationship satisfaction. This finding provides strong evidence for addressing issues of fairness in couples therapy. Further, it makes an important contribution to the development of the contextual therapy theory.