Relationships breakdown predictably. We’ve talked before about the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse‘, the four most critical signs that your relationship is on the rocks. But relationships break down in a pattern. Mark Knapp, has one of the more influential models for this pattern. Learn the stages and you might just be able to repair a friendship or fix a failing marriage.
Stage one: Differentiating
The two people start to become separate. They start to detangle themselves from their partner. They start to share less activities and develop separate friends. The similarities fade between the two people and the differences come into sharper focus. More of an ‘I’ mentality arises, than a ‘we’ mentality.
Stage two: Circumscribing
This is to do with communication predominantly. Essentially, the two people start avoiding subjects that cause conflict (usually due to the differentiation from stage one). Within the relationship, each person sets up their own ‘space’, be it hobbies or activities, or actual physical locations, in which the other person might not be welcome.
Stage three: Stagnation
It’s like when you say ‘I’ll work on it tomorrow’, keep putting it off and that becomes the pattern.
The negative patterns established in the last two stages become set. They aren’t addressed, they aren’t fixed and they become a part of the relationship. The separation is complete, it’s just that the relationship hasn’t formally been ended yet.
Stage four: Avoidance
Since you are basically stuck in a pattern of not doing things together, you start to actively avoid the other person. Physically, you prefer to spend time alone. Mentally, you avoid spending time addressing the other person’s needs. This is when you stop arguing and start simply avoiding the conflicts all together. If you’re here, it means you are on the brink of the end.
Stage five: Termination
Almost doesn’t bear explaining. You formally end the relationship and that’s that.
Interestingly, many platonic relationships never make it to termination. Avoidance is a more common stage to remain in. People will avoid the potential of formally ending the relationship. Or perhaps it’s a fear of missing out if you ever want to rekindle things. Obviously however, with romances, it’s a little harder to let things stagnate on and on (that’s called empty love, it’s a thing and it’s very sad).
Don’t let your relationship break down. Learn to communicate. Start with our mini-series on bad communication. Or, if you’re working hard on your relationships and want to boost your happiness while you’re struggling through, learn why you aren’t as happy as you could be (and how to synthesise happiness).