Knapp’s Relationship Model: 10 Stages and Examples

Knapp’s Relationship Model: 10 Stages and ExamplesReviewed by Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

knapp relationship model stages

Knapp’s relationship model depicts the development of relationships as a ten-stage process broken down into two phases – the coming together phase and the coming apart phase.

The first five stages are known as the building blocks of a relationship, while the second five stages represent the deterioration of a relationship.

The model assumes that all steps must be performed one at a time, in sequence, to ensure they are effective. However, not all relationships go through these stages of development similarly.

Developed by Mark L. Knapp in the late 1970s, this model is widely used to understand the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. It is also used to assess the health of an existing relationship or to predict the success of a potential one. 

This model facilitates individuals to comprehend the stages their relationship is enduring while providing them with the guidance they need in overcoming any obstacles that arise during each stage.

Definition of Knapp’s Relationship Model

Developed by Mark Knapp, the relationship model outlines a timeline for how two people interact through ten stages that are divided into two distinct phases: “coming together” and “coming apart.”

According to Pooja (2015), “Knapp’s relationship model explains how relationships grow and last and also how they end” (p. 85). Every relationship follows this journey, from initial attraction to long-term commitments or an ultimate separation.

The first five stages of this model are known as the “building blocks” of a relationship and describe the progression from initial contact to committing to a long-term relationship.

The second five stages are known as the “deterioration” of a relationship and describe how a relationship can unravel (Fox et al., 2013).

At each stage, various events occur that affect the relationship and how it develops. These events can be positive or negative, depending on how each person responds.

Baldridge (2016) states that

“…Knapp’s relationship development model is mostly used for describing the communication between romantic partners; however, this model can work for other close relationships like family or friends as well” (p. 1).

Put simply, Knapp’s relationship model provides a framework for understanding the different stages of relationships, the difficulties that may arise at each stage, and how to navigate them to build successful and enduring connections. 

The Phase of Coming Together

As relationships progress, Knapp’s relational development model suggests that they move through five distinct stages – initiating, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, and bonding (Welch, 2022).

Here is a brief overview of each of the stages:

  1. Initiating – In this stage, people explore each other to determine if they have enough in common and a strong enough connection to continue forming a relationship.
  2. Experimenting – Here, individuals start sharing more personal details and testing the boundaries of their connection. They may start to flirt and drop hints about their interest in each other, but they are still getting to know each other.
  3. Intensifying – If a mutual attraction and connection are established, the two people move into the “intensifying” stage, where they start to express deeper feelings for each other.
  4. Integrating – In this stage, the couple becomes a unit and establishes a shared identity. For example, they may start making plans together and introduce each other to friends and family. 
  5. Bonding – In the bonding stage, couples are fully committed to each other and have integrated their lives together. Couples often reach this stage before getting married or having children. 

The Phase of Pulling Away

In contrast to the phases of coming together, there are also phases of relational development that involve pulling away or disconnecting – differentiating, circumscribing, stagnating, avoiding, and terminating (Welch, 2022).

Here is a brief overview of each of the stages:

  1. Differentiating – This stage is where one or both persons become more separate from each other and direct their attention to their individual needs and desires.
  2. Circumscribing – As communication becomes more strained and couples start to feel disconnected from one another, they enter the “circumscribing” stage. Unfortunately, during this phase, interactions between partners tend to decrease while disagreements become increasingly commonplace.
  3. Stagnating – Couples become more distant and may even feel disconnected. Communication may be minimal, and there may be little emotional connection.
  4. Avoiding – Both people start to distance themselves from each other, including not answering calls or messages or avoiding physical contact.|
  5. Terminating – In this stage, the relationship ends. It can happen through a formal breakup or divorce, or the partners may drift apart and stop communicating.

10 Examples of Knapp’s Relationship Model

  • Initiating: If two people meet for the first time, they enter what Knapp calls the “initiating” stage. During this stage, both parties are exploring the other person to see if they are someone worth investing time and energy in.
  • Experimenting: As people further engage with one another, they begin to form a stronger bond and eventually enter the stage of “experimenting.” At this point, individuals start sharing more personal details and assessing the boundaries of their connection. They may start to flirt and drop hints about their interest in each other, but they are still getting to know each other.
  • Intensifying: If a mutual attraction and connection are established, the two people move into the “intensifying” stage, where they start to express deeper feelings for each other. For example, they may start to show more affection and give compliments.
  • Integrating: After both parties have made a commitment to each other and shared this with one another, they begin the integration process. It entails intertwining their lives by making long-term plans together and introducing each other to family members or friends. They may also start addressing each other as “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” in conversation.
  • Bonding: As a relationship matures, Knapp’s “bonding” stage is reached – a point where the two people are wholly devoted and have melded their lives together. They may even consider getting married or having children.
  • Differentiating: When a partnership begins to crumble, the two people enter what is known as the “differentiating” stage. During this time period, one or both partners may start to become more distant from each other and focus on their own individual goals and desires.
  • Circumscribing: As communication becomes more strained and couples start to feel disconnected from one another, they enter the “circumscribing” stage. Unfortunately, during this phase, interactions between partners tend to decrease while disagreements become increasingly commonplace.
  • Stagnating: As relationships start to become strained, couples drift from each other and enter a stage of stagnation. Here they lack emotional connections and may even feel disconnected from one another. It is often evidenced by reduced meaningful conversations or activities together as the couple slowly drifts further apart.
  • Avoiding: When people reach the point of no return and decide to end their relationship, they move into the “avoiding” stage. It is where both people start to distance themselves from each other, which can include not answering calls or messages or avoiding physical contact.
  • Terminating: If couples choose to end their relationship, they move into the “terminating” stage. It is where both parties officially end their relationship and move on with their lives. This stage can be difficult and emotionally charged, but it is a necessary part of the process of moving on from the relationship.

Strengths of Knapp’s Relationship Model

One of the most important strengths that Knapp’s relationship model provides is a comprehensive understanding of how relationships progress and develop. 

Knapp’s relationship model provides individuals with a comprehensive guide to understanding their own relationships and gaining insight into their different stages.

It offers clarity and invaluable knowledge for anyone looking to deepen their self-awareness about what they are experiencing in life (Pooja, 2015).

This model can be used in various relationships, such as romantic involvements, friendships, and family ties. With the understanding it provides, people can make better choices and adopt wiser behaviors that will lead to more solid bonds.

While the model describes a linear progression of stages, it acknowledges that relationships can move between or skip stages. Such flexibility makes it adaptable to real-life relationships’ complex and dynamic nature.

Importantly, Knapp’s model also emphasizes the importance of communication in relationships, particularly in the later stages (Pooja, 2015).

By understanding the different communication patterns characteristic of each stage, individuals can communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships.

Weaknesses of Knapp’s Relationship Model

Although Knapp’s relationship model is a useful tool for comprehending the phases of any relationship, it does have some disadvantages, such as oversimplifying human relationships and overlooking individual uniqueness and cultural discrepancies.

The model is a generalized representation of relationships and does not account for the nuances and complexities of any individual relationship. This simplification can limit its effectiveness in truly understanding and analyzing a relationship.

Moreover, Knapp’s theory does not incorporate the distinct ideas and differences people have about relationships.

Everyone has their own perception of a healthy connection, which can bring forth different interpretations when understanding this model.

Finally, Knapp’s model does not address cultural issues, which can contribute to the development and dynamics of any relationship.

Cultural norms, values, and expectations all impact how people interact with each other and the relationship they form.

Table Summary of Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths of Knapp’s Relationship ModelWeaknesses of Knapp’s Relationship Model
Provides a comprehensive understanding of how relationships progress and develop.Oversimplifies human relationships and overlooks individual uniqueness and cultural discrepancies.
Offers clarity and invaluable knowledge for anyone looking to deepen their self-awareness about what they are experiencing in life.Does not incorporate the distinct ideas and differences people have about relationships.
Can be used in various relationships, such as romantic involvements, friendships, and family ties.Does not address cultural issues, which can contribute to the development and dynamics of any relationship.
Describes a linear progression of stages but acknowledges that relationships can move between or skip stages, making it adaptable to real-life relationships’ complex and dynamic nature.Does not acknowledge that many relationships occur in different stages and progression is not linear.
Emphasizes the importance of communication in relationships, particularly in the later stages.

Conclusion

Knapp’s Relationship Model is an effective tool for understanding the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. This ten-stage model is divided into two phases – coming together and coming apart. 

While the first five stages depict the progression of a relationship, the second five stages represent the deterioration of a relationship.

This model is widely used to assess the health of an existing relationship or to predict the success of a potential one. However, it is important to note that not all relationships follow these stages of development in a linear sequence.

Regardless, Knapp’s Relationship Model offers a framework for understanding the different stages of relationships, the difficulties that may arise at each stage, and how to navigate them to build successful and enduring connections.

References

Baldridge, V. (2017). Knapp’s relationship model and nutrition. JCCC Honors Journal, 8(2). http://scholarspace.jccc.edu/honors_journal/vol8/iss2/3

Fox, J., Warber, K. M., & Makstaller, D. C. (2013). The role of Facebook in romantic relationship development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(6), 771–794. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407512468370

Pooja, K. (2015). English communication (for AECC course, Delhi university). Delhi: Vikas Publishing House.

Welch, K. (2022). Family life now. New York: Sage.

Viktoriya Sus

Viktoriya Sus (MA)

Viktoriya Sus is an academic writer specializing mainly in economics and business from Ukraine. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business from Lviv National University and has more than 6 years of experience writing for different clients. Viktoriya is passionate about researching the latest trends in economics and business. However, she also loves to explore different topics such as psychology, philosophy, and more.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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