For the past 50 years, Knapp’s relational stage model has been testified in relationship development and dissolution; it has become the fundamental of interpersonal communication theory. In building a relationship, this theory is based on the everyday human formation of new relationships that always begins with a conversation with strangers for the first time. Accordingly, most people would have experienced whether their relationship was developed or terminated.
As cited in ‘Interpersonal Communication: Putting Theory into Practice’ by Solomon and Theiss (2013, p.240), Knapp conceptualizes the five levels of the relationship development model that consists of the initiation, experimenting, intensifying, integrating, and bonding stage. He believes that when thinking about the development of a romantic relationship, it refers to the series of stages that the couples have been through. First, the initiation stage refers to the first impressions when someone puts romantic interests in their potential romantic partners. People tend to do self-judgment toward their prospective partners online or offline. Though the basic level, this stage is critical in determining whether the relationship should be developed or ended. Second, the experimenting stage is defined as wherein people already become good friends. They tend to seek more in-depth information to reduce uncertainty and discomfort; they may engage intentionally but not consistently in both offline and online conversations. The potential partner’s beliefs and attitudes are investigated further. The level of interest is also reviewed in this stage. Third, the intensifying stage, they clearly show that they are already romantically interested in each other. The personal boundaries are fading, the self-disclosure begins to manifest; they are already in a comfortable zone to exchange their personal information, ideas, and feelings. The next stage is the integrating stage, they typically express their interdependence; the use of the word ‘we’ and ‘us’ is a way to show an interdependent relationship. This stage is also known as more than just a good friend or friend zone. Finally, the bonding stage is defined as the clearance of the relationship status; the couple has intentionally shared a mutual affection.
Agree with the concept of relational stages of a romantic relationship, Fox & Anderegg (2014) state: “Typically, these models suggest a progression wherein individuals meet, become acquainted, establish romantic interests, date and then enter into an exclusive relationship that escalates in commitment over time” (Fox & Anderegg, 2014, p.686).
However, several scholars criticize the implementation of Knapp’s relational stage model for the past few years. Solomon and Theiss (2013) argue that the implementation of theory cannot be generalized in terms of timing; couples may in a fast or slow track to achieve the highest stage – the bonding stage. Four pathways of dating are described by Catherine Surra in 1985 as described in ‘Interpersonal Communication: Putting Theory into Practice’ by Solomon and Theiss (201, p.239) as follows: (a) accelerated courtship – a fast move toward committed relationship regardless of their past background, (b) accelerated arrested courtship – a quick move to intimacy but mutual commitment got obstructed, however couples in (c) intermediate courtship and (d) prolonged courtship – they are similarly required more time; the relationship has gone steady and calm, but couples in intermediate courtship faster toward mutual commitment than those in prolonged courtship. Thus, Solomon and Theiss (2013) suggest that couples have to focus on determining relationship goals and their messages to gain a mutual commitment quickly. Relationship goals are referred to the comprehension of each other’s goals, and determine the ways to achieve those goals, as it would help them to review their future relationship.
Furthermore, Fox et al. (2013) scrutinize that exploratory testing of this model is rarely done in modern interactions – most previous research focused on face-to-face interaction. In light of major changes in the way people communicate, the researcher further notes that today’s online phenomenon leads people to get to know other people online before they have ever met offline. Fox et al. (2013) have challenged the use of Knapp’s relational stage model using Facebook – the largest social networking site as of January 2019 with 3.48 billion Internet users worldwide, with a growth of 297 million new users since the last year (‘We Are Social’, 2019), the study found that Facebook has become primary tools for reducing uncertainty at the initiation stage and placing ‘in relationship’ status at the bonding stage. Therefore, it is important to examine how Knapp’s relational stage model is used in modern interpersonal communication, as Fox et al. (2013) support this when they wrote that conventional interaction requires more time to clarify the romantic relationship status than online.
In summary, this essay has discussed Knapp's relational development model. For a better understanding of the concept, different views, both supporters and critics, were discussed.