Mark Knapps Relationship Theory

Potentially every new person you meet may become that one lifelong friend in a relationship you treasure or the romantic partner with whom you want to spend your whole life with. Although the odds are against it with most acquaintances, there is always that possibility. Many scholars of communication and other disciplines have examined what they see as the linear development of personal relationships – viewing them as a sequence of stages or phases, each described by a particular set of behaviors. In looking at Mark Knapp’s 10 stages of building relationships, we find an extensive analysis of the stages of building, experiencing, and ending relationships and the kind of communication characterized in each step. His terms “Coming Together” and “Coming Apart” assumes that the projected stages may be sequential, that one often follows the other, but that sometimes relationships move more rapidly skipping stages to move either forward (toward greater intimacy) or backward (toward dissolving).

DIRECTIONS: Knapp’s theory can be applied to any kind of relationship, whether it is romantic, non-romantic, same sex as well as male-female relationships. Analyze a relationship in a movie or TV show. Please proof read your work; submissions should be free from errors.

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Coming Together
These are the first 5 stages that describe the slow growth of interpersonal relationships
1. Initiating: Refers to the very first attempts you make at conversation with a new person. During this scanning process, communication is generally more cautious and conventional. You are trying to establish contact and express interest.
2. Experimenting: In this stage you will try sample conversation topics in an attempt to gain some knowledge of the other person. Usually two people will ask a lot of questions and exchange a lot of small talk. Experimenting is a safe way of learning about similarities and differences. In this stage you are continually looking for ways to building on some area of common interest. Any commitments at this stage are generally very limited and the relationship is casual and relaxed. Sadly, most of our relationships don’t progress very far beyond this stage.
3. Intensifying: this stage marks the beginning of intimacy, sharing personal information, and the beginning of greater informality. It is marked by many changes in communication behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal. It takes place when acquaintances become close friends. Physical closeness, hand holding, and greater eye contact are just a few of the various indicators that a relationship is intensifying. A greater degree of openness about yourself is another. You may text or email during the day at work, even if you are meeting later in the day.
4. Integrating: refers to coupling; the two begin to see each other as a couple. Often this attitude is mirrored in the way others begin to treat them. At this time, they actively cultivate all the interests, attitudes, and qualities that make them unique as a couple. They may do this in a symbolic way, identifying a song as “our song” or even exchange rings. As the two begin to value more and more of the same things, they intensify some aspects of their personalities and minimize others.
5. Bonding is a more formal or ritualistic stage. It may take the form of engagement or marriage, but even “going steady” is a form of bonding. Through bonding, the couple gains social or institutional support for their relationship and agree to accept a set of rules or norms, governing their relationship. But bonding itself may change this relationship because it is now more difficult to break out of.

Coming Apart
Relationships may stabilize at any of the building stages preceding bonding, but even relationships that reach the closest stage may begin to deteriorate. For Knapp, the termination of a relationship is not simply the reverse of what has been referred to as “coming together.” People just don’t drift apart or separate; only when both want to terminate the relationship is the process one of reversal, marked by the decreasing contact, intimacy and so on. The next 5 stages represent the increasing deterioration that can occur in relationships that have been at the bonding stage or in some cases, never achieved it.
1. Differentiating occurs when two people decide that perhaps their relationship may be too confining. This can be early on in a relationship or any time. For example, a couple can pull back once a relationship intensifies and quickly begin to focus on their differences rather than their similarities. Or a couple who were at the bonding stage may decide they want to “do their own thing” or “need a little breathing room.” They begin to emphasize their individuality. The most obvious change in communication is the increased number of fights.
2. Circumscribing refers to a stage in which couples begin to reduce the frequency and intimacy of their communication. Certain hot button topics like money and sex tend to be avoided, since they are too likely to produce more quarreling. Greater formality returns, as if the two people didn’t know each other very well. “Is it okay with you if I go for a walk, now?” “I don’t care. Do whatever you want!”
3. Stagnating reflects the increasing deterioration of a relationship that the participants are trying to hold together. It might be for religious or financial reasons, or for the sake of the children involved, or because of other factors no longer having to do with attraction to the other person. Verbal and nonverbal messages become more and more like those conveyed between strangers. The relationship itself is no longer discussed.
4. Avoiding is a coping tactic to minimize the pain of experiencing a total deteriorated relationship. Of course, this is easier if the two people live apart but we all know couples who live in the same house yet lead completely separate lives. Avoiding often takes place between neighbors or co-workers after a major argument. The participants still must remain physically close, but they manage to keep contact to a minimum.
5. Terminating is the final stage in any relationship. Knapp, who applied his theory to the briefest of encounters as well as long-standing relationships, proposes that termination may occur after only a brief conversation or after a lifetime of intimacy. Generally the longer and more meaningful the relationship, the more painful and drawn out its termination. Messages of distance and dissociation are often exchanged at this time, and usually these summarize and clarify what is happening between the two people. For example, “I don’t ever want to see you again!” or “I’ll always respect you, but I don’t love you anymore.” Or “I love you but I’m not in LOVE with you.” Movement down the staircase can also skip several steps going, for example, from a bonding stage to a sudden rather than gradual termination – as when one person suddenly breaks off the relationship because he found out his girlfriend was unfaithful.
6. Ghost Stage: This is not Knapp’s but I feel it is important to discuss and include. After the relationship terminates there is a period of mourning or grief that has to be dealt with. This is when old pictures, love letters, and other artifacts of the relationship are destroyed or gotten rid of to help bring closure to the relationship.

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