Knapp’s Relational Development Model

The Knapp’s Model of Relational Development views relationship development as a ten step process, broken into two phases. According to the Knapp’s model, all of the steps must be done one-at-a-time and in order to make sure they are effective. Compared to DeVito’s 5 stage model of relational development, Knapp’s model is far more prescriptive and detailed, but also presupposes that the relationship will ultimately dissolve as evident in the five “coming apart” stages that make up the second half of the model.

The Coming Together Phase

Initiation is the very first stage when the individuals make their first impressions on each other. Physical appearance often plays a big role in this stage when it comes to forming first impressions.

Experimentation is the second stage; this is when individuals begin to engage in self-disclosure to learn information about each other. The individuals use this stage to explore and get a feel for the relationship as well as one another.[1]

During the intensifying stage of Knapp’s model, the two individuals will continue experimentations to determine whether there is mutual emotional affection and attachment. Whereas in the previous experimentation phase, conversation focused more on superficial topics such as discovering shared areas of interest and commonalities, in the intensifying stage the level of self-disclosure deepens. The breadth of topics discussed broadens and the depth in which each individual feels comfortable discussing those topics with the other enters the intimate and personal realms (see diagram of the Social Penetration Model). In this stage, certain behaviors such as increasing one on one contact through more frequent communication (through face to face encounters, text, or phone calls), doing favors for a partner or offering gifts as tokens of affection, requesting commitment from a partner through direct definitional bid, personalized verbal expressions of affection such as “I love you” or assigning pet names such as “babe,” and suggestive actions such as flirtation, gazing, or touching may all emerge as methods of intensifying the connection between the two people. Essential to the intensifying stage are “secret tests” performed by each individual to ascertain whether his or her overtures are actually helpful in their intensification efforts. These tests most often manifest themselves through:

Endurance, in which a partner is placed in an unpleasant, inconvenient, or uncomfortable situation or respond to certain requests to determine his or her commitment to the relationship.

Public presentation during which a partner is introduced under a particular label such as “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” to see if they are comfortable with being identified in this manner.

Separation, which tests whether communication and feelings of affection will continue despite an inability to physically be together.

Third-party questioning, where one partner may attempt to find out the hidden feelings of the interested party indirectly by asking a friend to probe the person of interest for indication as to their depth of feeling and affection.

Triangle tests, in which one partner sees if they can elicit jealousy from the other partner when another person expresses interest in the person concocting the test.

While all five of these methods are common methods of testing intensification efforts, it’s important to note that endurance, separation, and triangle-tests are generally the least constructive, and can even be destructive when it comes to building the relationship.[2]

Once each individual feels confident, through their various intensification efforts, that mutual affection has been confirmed, the couple may begin to transition into the integration stage of their relationship. In addition to bonding, the integration stage makes up maintenance stage of a relationship. During this stage, the couple is fused and elements of their individual social identity, such as friends, belongings, and living spaces are now shared. Additionally, the exclusive commitment each partner has for the other is generally solidified in this stage through even deeper self-disclosure and revealing of secrets, sex, and discussion of future plans.[3]

The final stage of the coming together half of the Relational Model is bonding. This stage puts the relationship on public display and suggests that the relationship is exclusive. This stage often involves marriage or another type of public contract, though marriage is not necessary to successfully bond. There is usually a turning point that happens in this stage that signals a change in the relationship, making the relationship intimate. Reaching this stage does not guarantee that the relationship will remain bonded, though many intimate relationships will remain in this stage until divorce, death, or another type of separation.[4]

Stages of Coming Apart

Along with the coming together stages, most relationships will go through the coming apart stages of the Relational DM. Like the “coming together” stages, there are five stages of “coming apart.” The first stage is differentiating. During this stage, differences between the relationship partners are emphasized and what was thought to be similarities begins to disintegrate. Instead of working together, partners quickly begin to become more individualistic in their attitudes. Differentiating is expected to happen in romantic relationships. A common solution to differentiating is for each partner to give the other “some space” though extreme differentiating can lead to a damaged relationship.[5]

Circumscribing is one of the early stages of the relationship coming apart; the beginning of the end. Both parties are prescribed their own space. One person might walk the dogs while the other might spend alone time in the office. It is inappropriate for these jobs or spaces to be invaded.

In the stagnation stage, what were once patterns in the relationship become ruts. One partner’s use of third person speaking becomes irritating and something the other party has come to expect.

Avoidance is the second to last step to Knapp’s Model of Relational Development. During this stage, the two people in the relationship will become separate from one another physically, emotionally, and mentally. In addition to not spending time with one another, they both begin to avoid the other person’s needs and solely start to focus on themselves. This stage ultimately leads to the final step in Knapp’s Relational Development model – Termination.

During the termination stage of Knapp’s Model of Relational Development, both people that were in the relationship decide to end their connection with one another. No longer are they both receiving a mutually satisfying outcome from being with one another. Neither one of them is happy, and the relationship must come to an end. In this model, this step is unavoidable.