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Knapp's Relational Development Model


Explanations > Relationships > Knapp's Relational Development Model

Coming together | Coming apart | So what


This is a model of stages through which a relationship goes, within the two make-and-break stages of coming together and coming apart (Knapp, 1984).

Coming together

The first overall phase is of the development of the relationship to its (hopefully long-term) peak.


In the initial contact early impressions are made. Although these may be inaccurate, they may well significantly influence whether the individuals want to progress the relationship to a further stage.

For romantic relationships physical impressions of appearance, dress, smell and so on are often important (for women too). General pleasantness is also important for social and business relationships.


If the parties show initial interested, they may next start exploring, looking for common interests, common acquaintances and other ground on which they can meet and share.

In business relationships, there will also be investigation into what each person brings to the table that will add value to the business of the other person.


With enough in common, the people now start sharing more private information and checking for reciprocal sharing by the other person that signals their interest in deepening the relationship.

This stage may also include spending more time together, gift-giving and declarations of affection. Advances may be made for further intimacy to test for the desire take things further.

In business, this may include negotiation and contracting activity that will lead up to value creation and exchange.


The two people now start seeing each other more often as they integrate a number of parts of their lives. Romantically, this may include sexual relationship and deep disclosure of shameful secrets.

In business, this is where they start working together with each getting value from the arrangement, often directly financial or that will lead to financial benefit.


Finally, the two people are fully integrated in the bonding stage. Here they make their unitary status known and may formalize it, for example through marriage.

Other symbols of unending commitment may also include such as joint bank accounts and having children.

In business, this includes partnership and trusting relations that reduce transaction costs and add longer-term value.

Coming apart

Although in bonding the people intend to keep the relationship going forever, sometimes this does not happen. In fact the divorce rate in a number of countries is higher than ever.


At first, and with the pressures of living, the closely bonded joint relationship starts to pull apart as the people have demands of different jobs, different friends and different interests.

Romantically, after a couple of years, people are no longer floating on a cloud and start to see themselves and the other person as individuals rather than a tight couple.

In business, other customers, suppliers and work pressure start to reduce the chance to meet. Individuals may also be looking to advancing their career.


As the people pull apart, the focus moves towards setting boundaries and delimiting differences. People have their own individual space, their own possessions, their own friends and so on.

This can cause conflict, for example where both claim the same resource as their own. Such argument only serves to push them apart faster. Knowing this, they may avoid argument, but the differences still exist and work on the individual psyches.

In business, there may be issues of quality and whether what is being delivered is that which is really needed. Conflict may cause recourse to contract details.


A stagnant relationship has reached the stage where separation is complete in many ways, yet the relationship persists, perhaps through apathy, convenience or other lack of need to completely separate.

In families, couples may stay together for the children even though their relationship has reached rock bottom. If tensions continue, it can be a difficult question as to whether separation is best or worst for the children.

In business, a stagnant relationship can lead to one or both parties receiving significantly less value than they once got from the relationship.


At some point the people see each other less and less, often deliberately avoiding contact. If they live together, one may go out whilst the other is in. If they work together, they may move jobs or otherwise ignore each other.

In avoiding one another, one of the first things to go is eye contact (which may have faded long ago anyway). Even when in the same room, they will try not to look at one another.

Avoidance also happens in business, where people see sorting out of a troublesome relationship or supplier as not in their current remit and so focus first on the issues that affect their key performance indicators.


Finally the people pull apart and go their separate ways. If there is joint ownership of houses, children and so on then this can be an acrimonious and difficult stage.

In business, this includes terminating suppliers, sacking employees and otherwise permanently breaking the relationship with the other person.

So what?

Notice these stages in the development and dissolution of your relationships. If you want to accelerate towards bonding or termination then deliberately and carefully move the relationship through the intermediate stages and avoid long delays such as in stagnation.

See also

Learning stage theories


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