Knapp's ten stages of a relationship

Written by w.d. johnson
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Knapp's ten stages of a relationship
Initiating, the first stage of Knapp's model, can last as little as 10 seconds. (MM Productions/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Mark Knapp's Relational Stages Model is divided into 10 stages across two major phases: coming together and coming apart. In reality, some stages may be omitted, revisited or jumbled from couple to couple--and can also be used to characterise relationships beyond romantic ones, such as friendships, business relationships and others involving close ties.

Coming Together: Initiating

This first stage is characterised by people's first encounters, involving initial contact, greetings and conversation starters. The emphasis at this time is to establish as positive an impression of oneself as possible. During this stage--the duration of which can be as short as 10 seconds--individuals observe and assess the most visible and apparent aspects of one another's physical characteristics and personalities.

Coming Together: Experimenting

The second stage involves becoming further acquainted, using pleasant small talk to gather a sense of what parties may have in common with one another, as well as what interest they may have in one another--and thus what potential value and likelihood there is of continuing any relationship.

Coming Together: Intensifying

Knapp's third stage involves the lowering of defences, confiding in one another, getting to know one another more deeply, and expressing feelings about one another. In romantic relationships, this would be the stage when couples transition from expressing "like" to expressing "love."

Coming Together: Integrating

The fourth stage consists of the individuals' lives and selves becoming more intertwined, to the point where they do so much together that others begin to perceive them as a unit. At this point, they think more in terms of "we" than in terms of "I," sharing property, friendships, special occasions, daily routines, responsibilities, commitments, intimacy and the bulk of their free time.

Coming Together: Bonding

The fifth is when the declaration of togetherness becomes official and public by way of some formal declaration of a couple's commitment and exclusivity to one another --typically, a wedding, in romantic relationships.

Coming Apart: Differentiating

At the first stage of coming apart, the individuals in the relationship regress to emphasis on "I" rather than "we," decisively spending more time than previously on developing and pursuing separate space and activities. Typically, the emergence of this stage signals that there are problems in the relationship that need to be addressed before it proceeds to unravel further.

Coming Apart: Circumscribing

During the second stage of coming apart, communication begins to falter as a couple attempts to preserve its bond on the surface--yet avoids sensitive subjects in order to do so.

Coming Apart: Stagnating

The third stage of coming apart is characterised by simply going through the motions--behaving as though nothing has changed, doing what has become usual and expected, yet with diminished interest, enthusiasm, joy or meaning.

Coming Apart: Avoiding

The fourth stage of coming apart involves making efforts to establish physical distance from one another as much as possible to avoid numb or unpleasant interactions unless they are absolutely necessary.

Coming Apart: Terminating

In the final stage of coming apart, a couple speaks the desire to go their separate ways and make the decision official. Speculations regarding what went wrong might also be exchanged, and the relationship may conclude on good or bad terms.

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