Knapp’s Relationship Model

Knapp’s Staircase Model. Source

Background of Knapp’s Relationship Model

In 1978, Mark Knapp proposed the ‘Relational Development Model’ or ‘Knapp’s Relationship Model’. Knapp’s model identifies the interpersonal development between two people in a relationship under two phases, each divided into five stages. To simply understand the two phases, we can term them as ‘coming together’ and ‘coming apart’ respectively. The ten stages under these are established based on characteristics like the types of communication behavior amongst the two of them.

The model begins by examining how a relationship begins, how it escalates and then deteriorates to finally come to an end. It might seem that the model suggests that every relationship terminates but Knapp has expressed that the model “describes what seems to happen, not necessarily what should happen”. 

To recognize the contribution of Researcher Anita Vangelisti, the model is sometimes known as ‘Knapp and Vangelisti’s Stages of Relationship Development’. The illustration of this model resembles that of stairs, thus also giving it the name ‘Knapp’s Staircase Model’.

Escalation: The phase of ‘coming together’

Throughout the coming together phase, the relationship begins and deepens

  1. Initiating

The very first stage of this phase of Knapp’s Developmental Model is concerned with first impression. It is suggested that it takes less than 15 seconds to carry out this stage. Since first impression is concerned, physical appearance keeps a lot of importance in the initiation stage. Therefore, one’s dressing, smell, body language etc. are a prime requisite.

  1. Experimenting
    At this second stage, the main concern of the two people is to get to know more about each other. In order to achieve this goal, probing and self disclosure are generally used. So, through “small talks” or conversations, they tell about themselves and ask for information about the other person. If they find a common-ground, the relationship progresses forward and if not, the relationship can end. Knapp has pointed out that most new relationships end at this stage of the Staircase Model.
  1. Intensifying

We can best understand the intensifying stage of a relationship as an amplified experimentation stage. The two of them deepen the vigor of self-disclosure, become less ‘formal’ in each other’s presence and can also “test” the other individual. They also show gestures like exchanging gifts, spending more time together, publicizing the relationship or asking for commitment etc.

  1. Integrating

This stage includes integration and maintenance of the relationship. They become confident in each other and fuse their identities in the social context. The relationship has now evolved upto the level of sharing secrets, engaging in sex, exclusive commitment, future planning and the like.

  1. Bonding

At the apex of the coming together phase is the stage of Bonding. Individuals declare their relationship to the world and also tend to make it formal and legal. Achieving this stage is not sufficient for the relationship to sustain but to break the bond, formal acts like separation, divorce, death etc. are required.

Termination: The phase of ‘coming apart’

As the name suggest, the coming apart phase breaks up the relationship

  1. Differentiating

When misunderstandings and conflicts happen among the individuals, the relationship begins to come apart and the first stage of ‘differentiation’ takes place. They realize that their interests are different and the common ground begins to disappear. As a result, they start thinking individually and demand ‘space’ for themselves. Knapp holds the opinion that differentiating can be a result of “bonding too quickly”.

  1. Circumscribing

Limited conversations and shallow interactions make up the essence of the circumscribing stage. Also described as ‘the beginning of the end’, conversing about ‘unsafe’ topics has a high potential of flaming an argument. The individuals in a relationship enjoy their alone time and do not invade each other’s newly developed need for privacy.

  1. Stagnating

When the relationship slides down to the stage of Stagnation, the individuals begin to feel trapped with each other and often imagine the negative response of the other person while interacting. The bond dangles in a see-saw where one plank represents the revival of the relationship and the other plank is termination. People decide to not terminate their association only due to reasons like children or other unavoidable circumstances.

  1. Avoiding

To steer clear of conversations and arguments, the individuals do not indulge in any talk. Gradually, they become physically detached which escalates to emotional and mental disconnection. Thus, they begin to focus only on themselves and disregard the other person. This stage is the final nail in the coffin which leads to termination. 

  1. Terminating

At last, the relationship terminates

The final stage in the coming apart phase is the end of Knapp’s relationship model. The relationship is formally wound up by both parties involved and they live absolutely separate lives. 

Every relationship experiences the stages in a unique way; the time, intensity and quality of each stage differs in different relationships. While as per Knapp, each stage should occur in sequence, one step at a time, in reality, some steps might be missed out in certain relationships. Furthermore, the acts of coming together or coming apart are to be considered neither inherently good nor bad.

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