In undergrad I took a few communication courses that explained interpersonal relationships, but despite all the 8 am lectures and group projects, only one teaching really stuck in my mind (sorry mom and dad). It was Knapp’s Relational Development Model created by communication professor and scholar, Mark L. Knapp. I always thought of Communication as a relatively easy and common sense course …one in which you could only respond to a particular textbook finding by rolling your eyes and scoffing, “duh.”
But this one took me by surprise. Maybe it won’t do the same for you, but it definitely caused me to stop doodling on my notebook while simultaneously glancing over at my phone to check if I had any new notifications and actually look at the powerpoint presentation and mutter, “huh.” Also, maybe that was a run on…so much for being an English major too, am I right?
Knapp’s model takes you step by step the origins of a relationship to the unfortunate demise of one in a rather digestible chart. The hope is that with this knowledge, one could understand how to navigate their own relationships in a healthy, fulfilling manner and perhaps, catch on to some of the more unhealthy downward spiraling symptoms and save it before it’s too late.
- Initiating – this is your first encounter, first impression and first exchanging of words
- Experimentation – conversation begins and you and the other person begin to discover each other’s likes, dislikes, hometown, favorite food or music
- Intensifying – now we’re entering a terrain that is a bit more friendly and intimate (I’d like to take you out on a date sort of thing and find out who you are, your childhood, your pet peeves and your dreams)
- Integration – it’s decided. I like you more than a friend and see you as something deeper than that. Maybe we become exclusive or maybe this becomes more love than like
- Bonding – It’s official! This is a public declaration of who you are with that person i.e. facebook status changed to ‘in a relationship,’ or legal commitment in the form of marriage
I would associate this as the beginning of the end of a feel good montage during a film. It’s important to note that almost every single relationship will have experienced stages from the falling apart, but simply because there’s a decline, doesn’t mean all is lost.
- Differentiating – Your honeymoon trip to Bora Bora is over – the flight has landed on the runway for some time now and that lovey dovey feeling you had for the other person fades away. You pick up on your own interests and begin to become more individual focused rather than team oriented
- Circumscribing – Certain topics are simply off limits and never discussed to avoid an argument. Lives become more severed as you both pursue different activities and interests
- Stagnation – Most of the time, this is the point of no return. If things don’t improve by this point, chances of it getting better are slim. Generally, you stay because of the kids or other external reasons. You may be married or living together and communication is few and far in between.
- Avoidance – Strangers under the same roof. In order to steer clear from arguing, there’s no talking and neither individuals interact with the other. Physical touch, eye contact and even being in the same room is avoided. Where the relationship used to be a starstruck one, it is not met with utter and complete silence
- Terminating – The last and final stage of putting this relationship to rest. Divorce occurs or both parties go their separate ways
Well that’s a debbie downer. But it’s vital to keep in mind that not every single relationship hits each stage and just because you’re somewhere in the “falling apart” segment doesn’t mean it’s the end. Some relationships start at “Intensifying” and skip all the way to “Bonding” without ever grazing the steps in between. This is not a set formula, but it is important to helping us see patterns and salvage a deteriorating relationship before it comes to an end.
So if you can skip steps or go out of order such as going from “Intensifying” back to “Experimentation”, then can you go back to a stage that you’ve already been through?
In short, can you ever go back to the way things were?
The simple answer is no. Let’s say a bickering couple were to reconcile and one pleads to the other to “please go back to the way things were.” They leave the Circumscribing phase and head back to the Integration stage. Suppose they had already gone through the Integration stage before, Knapp’s theory reveals that movement (whether forward or back) is always to a new place; you will never be able to recreate what was. A moment past is a moment gone.
Now that can be unfortunate news, especially if that stage happened to be an incredibly sweet and joy filled one for both parties, but it is also deeply encouraging to know that when it comes to our relationship with God, not only is returning to the way we were possible, but it is and has been God’s plan from the very beginning. Ever since the Fall, we have been simultaneously trying to find ourselves and lose ourselves with the next high, sedate our minds into mush with another Netflix binge, find joy and worth from whomever finds us attractive enough to sleep with. We fall into the arms of a temporary comfort, only to realize we have always belonged to God. The craving for comfort or companionship is real and valid, yet what we seek to find is that familiar Edenic embrace that existed in a garden so very long ago. So if Knapp’s theory states that movement back or forward to the same stage is impossible, then how does God do it?
Human relationships that fail to return to a previous stage are no match for a God that pursues unto death. No such thing can move us back to once was, but the blood of Christ can. It gives us the ability to do what could not be done and allows us to reunite in a way we could have never imagined. When we experience the wreckage of a relationship gone sour, there is one that cannot crumble. To know you are loved is one thing, but to know that someone yearns for us so deeply that they would be willing to die, is incomprehensible. To know that you in all your flaws and shortcomings is worth going back for is unbelievable especially when it’s at the cost of one’s life. The way we were is not just a desperate plea to the return of a nostalgic past, or the memorable lyrics of Barbara Streisand’s song that encapsulated her 1974 film, but of the God who loves so deeply that such an impossible feat is made possible by the blood of our Savior.