Table of Contents

General Contexts

Intrapersonal Communication (Persuasion)

Interpersonal Communication

Small Group Communication

Organizational Communication

Intercultural Communication

Mass Communication

Applied Contexts

Health Communication

Instructional Communication

Honors Capstone Home Page

Last updated February 14, 2001


Click Here to Go Back to Interpersonal Context Page

Relationship Development

Explanation of Theory:

The model of relational development is an explanation put into stages that identifies and develops understanding about the communication experiences that interpersonal communicators experience in terms of changes in intimacy levels. 

Theorist: Mark Knapp

Date:  1984

Primary Article:

     Knapp, M.L. (1984). Interpersonal Communication and Human Relationships. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Individual Interpretations:

Metatheoretical Assumptions:

Ontological Assumptions:
In terms of reality, the Relational Development Model is more of a scientific theory because it corresponds to the idea that there is one reality which is followed in a precise pattern by progressing through the steps.

Epistemological Assumptions:

This model is humanistic in the sense of researcher and research relationship.  What the researchers discovered is based on what they were interested in studying.

Axiological Assumptions:
In terms of values, the model is about neutrally between humanistic and scienticfic because it can be considered unbiased in that there are certain stages, but the decision of which stage a couple is in is completely based on biases and opinions.


The model of relational development is critically a more vague theory, partly because it is a model rather than a theory.  I believe that the model is more humanistic than scientific, however.  Although it presumes that interpersonal relationships will progress through these stages at one time or another, the model is more descriptive in nature because it explains what has already happened better than it predicts exactly what will occur in the future.  It is also quite intuitively credible because it is practicable and usable.  Another reason this model appears to be more humanistic is in the vagueness of the stage identification. 

Ideas and Implications:

The relational stages model is useful to apply in all situations in which interpersonal communication occurs.  It is relevant for romantic as well as platonic or same-gender relationships.  The model also helps couples understand why there are discrepancies in what each partner is wanting from the relationship.  When a person wants to move up a stage in his or her relationship, it probably means that he or she wants to increase positive feelings derived from being with the other person.  When one partner wants to move down a stage, it usually means he or she wants to decrease certain negative feelings that come from being involved with the other. 


The following is a tangible example of the model of relationship development
 created by Knapp.
   Process                       Stage                                              Representative Dialogue
                                                                                                                                                                         Coming                   Initiating                                   "Hi, how ya doin'?"
Together                                                                   "Fine, you?" 

                               Experimenting                           "Oh, so you like to ski...so do I."
                                                                                  "You do?! Great. Where do you go?"

                               Intensifying                               "I...I think I love you."
                                                                                  "I love you too."

                               Integrating                                "I feel so much a part of you."
                                                                                 "Yeah, we are like one person. What 
                                                                                  happens to you happens to me."

                               Bonding                                     "I want to be with you always"
                                                                                 "Let's get married."

Coming                   Differentiating                         "I just don't like big social gatherings."    Apart                                                                        "Sometimes I just don't understand you.
                                                                                 This is one area where I am not like you at all."

                               Circumscribing                         "Did you have a good time on your trip?"
                                                                                 "What time will dinner be ready?"

                               Stagnating                                "What's there to talk about?"
                                                                                 "Right, I know what you're going to say and you know 
                                                                                  what I'm going to say."

                               Avoiding                                    "I'm so busy, I don't know if I'll be able to see you."
                                                                                  "If I'm not around when you try, you'll understand."

                               Terminating                              "I'm leaving you...and don't bother calling me."
                                                                                  "Don't worry."

Relevant Research:

     Knapp, M.L., Miller, G.R. (1994). Handbook of Interpersonal Communication.

     Knapp, M.L., Hall, J.A. (1997). Nonverbal Communication in Human Interaction

     Furman, W., Brown, B.B., Feiring, C. (1999). The Development of Romantic Relationships in Adolescence.

Location in Eight (8) Primary Communication Theory Textbooks:

     Anderson, R., & Ross, V. (1998). Questions of communication: A practical introduction to theory (2nd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.  N/A

     Cragan, J. F., & Shields, D.C. (1998). Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. N/A

     Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. N/A

     Griffin, E. (1997). A first look at communication theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. N/A

      Infante, D. A., Rancer, A. S., & Womack, D. F. (1997). Building communication theory (3rd ed.). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press. 267-275.

      Littlejohn, S. W. (1999). Theories of human communication (6th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A

      West, R., & Turner, L. H. (2000). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. N/A

       Wood, J. T. (1997). Communication theories in action: An introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. N/A