Knapp's Relational Development Model
The Knapp's Model of Relational Development views relationship development as a process. Therefore, all of the steps must be done one-at-a-time and in order to make sure they are effective.
Coming together phase
The first stage of the Coming Together phase of the Relationship Development Model is the initiating stage where first impressions of the two people involved in the relationship are made once the initial contact has been made. Often physical factors play a role in this stage, such as clothing, perfumes or colognes, hair styles, and overall appearance. People often want to portray themselves as easy to talk to, friendly, and open to discussion. This stage does not include deep revealing conversations, but rather light conversation meant to survey the possibility of a closer personal relationship with someone. Sometimes appearance plays a role in making the first impression as well.
Moving from the initiation stage of the Model, the next stage is experimentation. In this stage of the relationship, the two people attempt to find some common ground between each other’s lives such as common interests and hobbies. This stage is also referred to as the probing stage, because each person probes the other for information that would allow them to further the social connection between them. Many relationships end here, never developing to anything more than a mere acquaintance.
However, those relationships that do move to the next stage experience the intensifying stage. Here also is where people test the potential of the relationship with varying degrees of self-disclosure to see if that will be reciprocated and to test the impressions one is making. In the intensifying stage of the Relationship Development Model, relationships grow and self-disclosure becomes more apparent and deep. People find many different ways to foster their relationships in order to stimulate relational development. Methods include giving gifts, asking for a romantic relationship commitment or expressing affection both verbally and nonverbally. Of course, there are no set guidelines for every relationship in the intensifying stage. Every relationship possesses unique characteristics that make it difficult for the Relationship Development Model to accurately predict if efforts to further the relationship will succeed or fail. Partners in some relationships may “test the waters” to see if particular advances are welcomed or frowned upon. These "secret" tests are intended to test the intensity of a relationship. They can include presenting the other person as a girlfriend or boyfriend (presentation) or seeing if the relationship lasts when a temporary physical separation between the two people occurs. Others will openly engage interpersonally in a declaration to the other of their intent to be exclusive in some fashion.
The fourth stage of relationship growth is the integration stage, where the lives of the two people begin to merge and their status as a couple is confirmed. In this stage friends that one would have individually meet and social groups combine. Also occurring at this stage are the beginnings of a sexual relationship and the deepest levels of self-disclosure are approached, signifying the intimacy of the relationship.
After the integration stage, the final stage of the coming together half of the Relationship DM is reached, the bonding stage. In this stage, the commitment of the relationship is communicated to the rest of the world. From a legal perspective, it could be called marriage, but marriage is not necessary in the bonding stage. For instance, if gay and lesbian couples, where forbidden by law to marry, announce or declare their relationships, this can move the couple into this stage of the relationship. The bonding stage is where many intimate and romantic relationships remain indefinitely, until divorce, death, or otherwise. Key points to maintaining a relationship at this stage include sharing power equally, emphasizing positive and constructive communication patterns, and making frequent connections with one another.
Stages of Coming Apart
More often than not, relationships move from the coming together stages of the RDM to the coming apart stages. Just as with the "coming together" stages, there are five stages of the coming apart. The first stage of dissolving the relationship is the differentiating stage. During this stage of the Relationship Development Model, differences are exploited instead of the commonalities of the experimenting and intensifying stage. The momentum of the “work together” attitude quickly shifts directions and becomes more individualistic. Some may describe feelings of being held down and resentful of their commitment to their partner. Temporary separation is a common solution to this stage of the relationship.
Following the differentiating stage is the circumscribing stage. In the circumscribing stage, the primary focus of the relationship shifts from differences to setting limits and boundaries on communication between the two people. The communication becomes much shallower and the range of topics significantly decline. Partners may fear discussing deep topics because of the threat of a conflict, leading to less communication altogether.
If the decline of the relationship continues, it is likely to enter the third stage, stagnation. This stage builds off many of the problems of the circumscribing stage; communication becomes more limited and less frequent. Stagnating relationships do not grow or progress but rather invoke a feeling of “nothing changes”.
The second to last stage of the dissolution of the relationship is the avoidance stage. This stage takes the limited communication to a physical level. Partners may avoid each other altogether, desiring separation from one another.
The final stage of the RDM is the termination stage. The relationship stops completely. Although it is possible to save a relationship from this stage of development, it is very difficult to “relight the fire” that once held the relationship together. However, the coming apart stages of the Relationship Development Model are not necessarily negative. Sometimes, it is healthy for two people to terminate their relationship in the interest of personal aspirations and well-being. The Model cannot accurately describe all relationships, each relationship moves at different speeds and is affected by the personalities and communication abilities of the people involved.
- Rothwell, J. Dan. In the Company of Others. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004. 278-285.
Knapp, M.L. (1984). Interpersonal Communication and Human Relationships. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.