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Purpose: To demonstrate an understanding of Mark Knapp’s model of relational development.
Choose a film. In 4 pages, apply Mark Knapp’s model of communication to the film. Do not tell me the story of the film and do not evaluate the film; instead explain how the relationships among actors in the film develop.


Interpersonal Communication

The aim of this paper is to analyze the development of interpersonal relationships according to Knapp’s Model of Relational Development. Communication holds great value in determining the course of relationships. According to Mark Knapp, there are ten stages in the development of a relationship which are in two major phases: the first which involves an increase in intimacy, and the second that involves a decrease in intimacy. In addition to this, Knapp notes that all these stages are active in that they involve participation in certain actions by both parties. In analyzing Knapp’s (1984) Model, I intend to use the movie ‘If I stay’ as my reference.

The first stage in the development of a relationship is the initiating stage (Knapp, 1984). This stage is characterized by small talk, and in many instances men seem to be more comfortable in nurturing the relationship. In the movie, ‘If I Stay’, Adam initiates the relationship by inviting Mia to a concert. On the other hand, is shocked as she does not expect that Adam would associate with her due to their different interests in music. Similarly, in many instances in life, men are more comfortable in this stage of development. They communicate clearly when they first meet someone as compared to women.

The second stage, called the experimenting stage is characterized by conversations about emotions and feelings. In this stage, women are more comfortable in directing communication. People communicate about their stands in life, hopes and dreams for the future, as well as things their likes and dislikes. Moreover, the conversation may be about how one found himself or herself pursuing a certain interest and what drove them towards pursuing it. In the movie, Mia and Adam talk about how they developed their different interests in music and what motivated them towards pursuing those interests.


The third stage of relational development involves going out and doing something, and it is known as the intensifying stage. People engage in a physical activity for instance playing a game. Men are more comfortable in proposing ideas for places to attend as well as directing the conversation. As seen in the movie, Adam and Mia attend a classical concert to which the former invites the latter. This therefore, proves that men are more comfortable in developing the relationship at this stage as they are frequently the initiators.

According to Mark Knapp’s model, the fourth stage of a relationship is the integrating stage. Knapp explains that it involves the introduction of the other party into one’s larger social circles. In the business world, the stage would be identified as networking, whereby the individual is introduced to business partners and workmates. Similarly, a person is introduced to friends and family members. Adam introduces Mia to his bandmates when they attend his concert. Introduction into social circles also influences the direction of a relationship. For instance, most people expect that they should be introduced to the family of a future spouse. However, if this does not occur, they may stop identifying with the person as a future spouse.

In the bonding stage, the two people are frequently identified as one unit and this may be the case in engagement and subsequently marriage. In many instances, friends and families of the two individuals identify them as one entity. Adam and Mia are identified as a single unit by Mia’s family and friends as well as Adam’s bandmates. They rely on one another for intimate interactions, and frequently the two individuals make plans together to enhance bonding in form of dating and future plans such as marriage. According to Mark Knapp’s model, bonding is the final stage of the increasing intimacy phase.

The decreasing intimacy phase is initiated by the differentiating stage. In this stage, an individual assert their individuality from the other person. This is done through the pursuit of one’s individual goals in life. In many cases, the individuals are driven to achieve something for themselves which may affect the course of the relationship negatively. In the movie, Mia pursues her interest in Julliard School of Music which is in New York by applying as a cello instrumentalist. However, this action does not align itself with the goals of the relationship since Mia would have to move away which would reduce the level of intimacy (Knapp, 1984).

Circumscribing is the second stage of the decreasing intimacy phase. In this stage, the individuals may get involve in big conflict that arise from small conflicts. This is contributed to by differences in the two individuals’ personalities. In many instances in life, a relationship may break as a result of a big conflict regarding changes in the individuals’ interests. Similarly, in the movie, Adam and Mia’s relationship is broken when the two choose to pursue their individual interests in music without proper communication. Communication affects this stage as people tend to hide some information from their partners.

Stagnating is characterized by the absence of relational development. This is the case when individuals do things time and again without any development. A relationship in this stage is said to have ‘hit a rut’ (Knapp, 1984). The relationship between the two individuals is at a standstill. Communication is frequently shallow as the members rarely discuss the course of the relationship. In the movie, Mia and Adam’s relationship stagnates when Adam goes on a tour with his band and the two do not communicate as much. In many relationships, the two individuals communicate less often in this stage.

The avoiding stage is the fourth stage of the decreasing intimacy phase. In this stage, the individuals may avoid each other or avoid talking about their relationship in the event that they meet. Adam avoids Mia when he goes on tour and fails to call her. Similarly, in life, individuals may avoid each other as a means of terminating shared feelings.

The final stage of decreasing intimacy and relational development is the terminating stage. In this stage, the two individuals part ways and are no longer associated with each other (Knapp, 1984). Moreover, the families and friends of the two families may stop seeing them as one entity. This is often as a result of absence of communication or the move by the individuals to part ways. However, in some cases, the relationship may be reinstated in the future as seen in the movie ‘If I stay’. This occurs especially if one party apologizes to the other for past actions and agrees to continue to pursue the relationship.

Although Knapp’s model lacks theoretical foundation, the stages that it describes are often experienced in many relationships not only in movies but also in real life. The model therefore provides a useful framework that can be used in defining the course of many relationships in life today. However, all relationships may necessarily follow the trajectory explained in the model because some people may tend relate to each other differently. Nevertheless, the model can be used as an outline of relational development in showing how interpersonal communication defines the course of a relationship.


Knapp, M. (1984). Relational Development Model. New York, NY: Routledge.

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