Relationships aren’t easy. That’s why psychologists like to pigeonhole them. So we end up with all these unrelated theories trying to explain different (or competing to explain the same) things. When it comes to the formation and development of relationships, it’s no different. No model is perfect. But sometimes a model is just so beautiful, it has to be shared. In this article, we talk about the five stages of Mark Knapp‘s model of relationship escalation and how we can use it to figure out how close we are to someone (or when we’re people watching, how close two people we’re looking at are).
Stage one: Initiating
The first stage. There isn’t a whole bunch to this. It’s essentially the impression you make, the impression they make, and the subsequent decision to get to know each other a little better. This is the phase in which making a killer first impressions is important (we talk about that here) and things are very superficial.
Stage two: Experimenting
Once we’ve decided that ‘ok, this person seems cool’, be it in the same interaction or the next time they meet, people move into stage two. This stage in the relationship is like going to the shops to buy perfume. You pick up the ‘tester’ to figure out whether you want to commit any further. People get a little more personal, talking more about who they are than the superficial conversation of the last stage, and trying to figure out if they have enough in common to take this for the home run.
Stage three: Intensifying
You’ve moved from acquaintances to friends now (at least). Now you’re not looking at whether you have common interests, you’re looking for the emotional depth. You’re creating a sense of attachment to the person too. In this stage, you see ‘ownership’ behaviours evolving, like adjusting each others’ clothes or giving/using nicknames. You see an increase in the frequency of communication too. But most of all, people in this phase are trying to determine a level of mutual affection. Figuring out how much you’re going to like each other, essentially.
Stage four: Integration
Once you’re happy with how much you like each other, it makes sense that you’d move to the next stage, which is basically you start to fuse lives. You start to share your friends and activities. You might even share your stuff, like lending clothes or not worrying about who’s paying for lunch. You might move in with them. This is the stage, especially for couples, where the social identity fuses too; where it stops being James and his girlfriend but James and Sarah. The automatic plus one. This is where real love develops too, both platonic and romantic (because the amount of love you feel for someone is essentially dependant on how fused you are, more on that here).
Stage five: Bonding
This is the final stage and this is a stage that rarely involves platonic relationships. It is the signal to the rest of the world that you are an item, usually to the exclusion of others. In our culture, marriage is the clearest signal that a relationship has reached this stage.
And that, my friends is one of the neatest relationships development models out there. Happy people watching!
Want models on relationships? We got ’em. Check out why you shouldn’t waste time on ‘promising’ relationships here. Or the four most common causes on conflict in relationships here. Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.