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The Stages of Interpersonal Relationship

People dont become intimate friends immediately upon meeting. Rather, they build an intimate relationship gradually, through a series of steps or stages. The same is true of most relationships for most people. Partners also may not perceive their relationship in the same way; one person for example, may see the relationship as having reached the intimate stage, but the other may not.

At the initial phase of the contact stage, there is some kind of perceptual contactyou see, hear, and perhaps smell the person. From this you get a physical picturegender, approximate age, height, and so on. After this perception there is usually interactional contact. Here the contact is superficial and relatively impersonal. This is the stage at which you exchange basic information that is preliminary to any more intense involvement (Hello, my name is Joe); you initiate interaction (May I join you?) and engage in invitational communication (May I buy you a drink?). According to some researchers, its at this stagewithin the first four minutes of initial interactionthat you decide whether you want to pursue the relationship (Zunin & Zunin, 1972). At the contact stage, physical appearance is especially important, because its the characteristic most readily seen, and thus usually plays a very important role in creating impressions of a person to others. Yet through verbal and nonverbal behaviors, personal qualities such as friendliness, warmth, openness, and dynamism are also revealed. The physical appearance is especially a significant factor for artists, political leaders, and other public icons who need to constantly appear in the media. If they portray a messy, careless appearance, the public would have a bad impression about their characteristics and personalities. For people doing job interview, careful picks on clothing and tidy appearance will most probably boost their confidence and increase the chance of their getting accepted by the recruiters as this displays them as a confident, capable, and qualified people. Verbal and nonverbal behaviors are revealed longer than physical appearance because they are not readily seen. Slight gestures or thoughtful reminders or talks are very subtle and not easy for people to observe and understand. Sometimes, because of bad impression of any physical appearance, some people prefer to ignore a person and thus preventing further contacts to know each other better.

At the involvement stage a sense of mutuality, of being connected, develops. Here, you experiment and try to learn more about the other person. At the initial phase of involvement, a kind of testing goes on. You want to see whether your initial judgment proves reasonable. So you may ask questions: Where do you work? What are you majoring in? If you want to get to know the person even better, you might continue your involvement by intensifying your interaction and by beginning to reveal yourself, though in a preliminary way. In a dating relationship, you might, for example, use a variety of strategies to help

you move to the next stage and perhaps to intimacy. For example, you might increase contact with your partner; give your partner tokens of affection such as gifts, cards, or flowers; increase your own personal attractiveness; do things that suggests intensifying the relationship, such as flirting or making your partner jealous; and become more physically intimate (Tolhuizen, 1989). Involvement here basically means an increase amount of communication between people. It can be through direct or indirect communication. Direct communication is where people are conversing directly face to face with each other without any kind of barrier. It means that they can see each other face and gestures perfectly. They are physically in the same place and time. Indirect communication is the kind of communication where people do not converse directly but through a medium. Text messages, text chat services enhanced with webcam, gifts, cards, letters, and flowers are just some examples of indirect communication. It means that people portray certain thoughts and feelings to each other through a medium in order to intensify the relationship further.

The contact and involvement stages make up relationship developmenta movement towards intimacy. At the intimacy stage you commit yourself still further to the other person and establish a relationship in which this individual becomes your best or closest friend, lover, or companion. You also come to share each others social networks, a practice followed by members of widely different cultures (Gao & Gudykunst, 1995). Not surprisingly, your relationship satisfaction also increases with the move to this stage (Slavelis & Lamke, 1992). One research study defined intimacy as the feeling that you can be honest and open when talking about yourself and about thought and feelings that you dont reveal in other relationships (Mackey, Diemer, & OBrien, 2000). The intimacy stage usually divides itself into two phases. In the interpersonal commitment phase, the commitment is made publicperhaps to family and friends, perhaps to the public at large. Here you and your partner become a unit, an identifiable pair. Intimacy here means a lot more involvement and commitment between people than the previous stage. Here, people are engaged more in the life of the other and are of influence to the other and vice versa. This stage needs a lot of trust, openness, acceptance, and patience for the intimacy to continue to grow. Otherwise, a lot of conflicts and misunderstanding because of the lack of especially qualities like trust and openness may create the relationship to deteriorate.

The relationship deterioration stage is characterized by weakening of the bonds between the friends or lovers. The first phase of deterioration is usually intrapersonal dissatisfaction: You begin to experience personal dissatisfaction with everyday interactions and begin to view the future with your partner more negatively. If this dissatisfaction grows, you pass to the second phase, interpersonal deterioration. You withdraw and grow further and further apart. You share less of your free time. When youre together, there are awkward silences, fewer disclosures, less physical contact, and a lack of psychological closeness. Conflicts become more common and their resolution more difficult.

Relationship deterioration involves special communication patterns. These patterns are in part a response to the deterioration; you communicate the way you do because you feel that your relationship is in trouble. However, these patterns are also causative: The communication patterns you use largely determine the fate of your relationship. Here are a few communication patterns that characterize relationship deterioration. Withdrawal. Nonverbally, withdrawal is seen in the greater space the partners need and in the speed with which tempers and other signs of disturbance arise when that space is invaded. Other nonverbal signs of nonverbal signs of withdrawal include a decrease in eye contact and touching; less similarity in clothing; and fewer displays of items associated with the other person, such as bracelets, photographs, and rings (Miller & Parks, 1982; Knapp & Vangelisti, 2000). Verbally, withdrawal involves a decreased desire to talk and especially to listen. At times, partners may use small talk not as a preliminary to serious conversation but an alternative, perhaps to avoid confronting the serious issues. Decline in self-disclosure. Self-disclosing communications decline significantly. If the relationship is dying, you may think self-disclosure isnt worth the effort. Or you may limit your self-disclosures because you fell that the other person may not accept them or can no longer be trusted to be supportive and empathic. Deception. Deception increases as relationships break down. Sometimes this takes the form of clear-cut lies that people may use to avoid arguments over such things as staying out all night, not calling, or being seen in the wrong place with the wrong person. At other times, lies may be used because of a feeling of shame; you may not want the other person to think less of you. One of the problems with deception is that it has a way of escalating, eventually creating a climate of distrust and disbelief. Negative versus positive messages. During deterioration theres an increase in negative and a decrease in positive messages. Once you praised the others behaviors, but now you criticize them. Often the behaviors have not changed significantly; what has changed is your way of looking at them. What was once a cute habit now becomes annoying: what was once different now becomes inconsiderate. When a relationship is deteriorating, there is a decline in requests for pleasurable behaviors (Will you fix me my favorite dessert?) and a rise in requests to stop unpleasant behaviors (Will you stop monopolizing the phone?) (Lederer, 1984). Even the social niceties get lost as requests deteriorate from Would you please make me a cup of coffee, honey? to Get me some coffee, will you? to Wheres my coffee?

It must be noted that in some relationships, the deterioration of the relationships can, if the problems eventually solved, boosts the relationships and make the people involve in those relationships much closer than before the conflicts because in the process they learn about each others personalities better and learn how to cope with the differences exist between them. Of course, the opposite is true if the problems remain unsolved or the problems keep getting bigger without any efforts from all parties involved to try to rescue the relationships; in other words, the relationships keep deteriorating and may even lead to dissolution of the relationships.

At the relationship repair stage, some relational partners may pause during deterioration and try to repair their relationship. Others, however, may progresswithout stopping, without thinkingto dissolution. At the first repair phase, intrapersonal repair, you analyze what went wrong and consider ways of solving your relational difficulties. You might at this stage consider changing your behaviors or perhaps changing your expectations of your partner. You might also evaluate the rewards of your relationship as it is now and the rewards to be gained if your relationship ended. Should you decide that you want to repair your relationship, you might move to the interpersonal repair phaseyou might discuss with your partner the problems in the relationship, the changes you want to see, and perhaps what youd be willing to do and what youd want your partner to do. This is the stage of negotiating new agreements and new behaviors. You and your partner might try to repair your relationship by yourselves, or you might seek the advice of friends or family, or perhaps go to professional counseling. For people to repair the relationships there is a need for them to realize the importance of their relationships and that they really want to fix the problems between them. Sometimes, it needs some people to be understanding of the situation and are willing to take a step backward so that the conflicts would not intensify further. Where avoidance of each other or silence treatment as the means to depict the decline in the relationship is concerned, there would be a need of the people who are initiative enough to repair the relationship. Otherwise, the relationship would stall and die gradually.

The dissolution stage, the last stage in the relationship model, involves cutting the bonds that you tie together. In the beginning it usually takes the form of interpersonal separation: You might move into your own apartments and begin to lead separate lives. If the separation works better than the original relationship, you enter the phase of social or public separation. Avoidance of each other and a return to a single status are among the primary characteristics of the dissolution of a relationship. Dissolution of a relationship does not mean that you completely cut all ties and relations to that person. It rather means that you change the relationship status with a particular person. For example, a couple divorced and they still can remain as good friends who check on each others lives every now and then. Of course, dissolution can also mean the change to lovers to strangers who usually happen between people who were too close to each other and just could not remain as friends after the dissolution of their relationship because simply they felt that it was too painful to be with each other as friends after all the sweet memorable memories they had created. Surely, there would be people who can cope with all those. After all, the process of the communication and relationship between people is really determined by their personalities and characteristics. Here are some steps you can take to ease the pain during the dissolution of a relationship.

Break the LonelinessDepression Cycle. The two most common feelings following the end of a relationship are loneliness and depression. In most cases, fortunately, loneliness and depression are temporary. Depression, for example, rarely lasts forever. When depression does last, is especially deep, or disturbs your normal functioning, its time to seek professional help Take Time Out. Resist the temptation to jump into a new relationship while you still have strong feelings about the old one and before a new one can be assessed with some objectivity. Bolster Self-Esteem. If your relationship fails, you may experience a decline of self-esteem (Collins & Clark, 1989). Your task now is to regain the positive image you need in order to function effectively. Seek Support. Seeking the support of others is one of the best antidotes to the unhappiness caused when a relationship ends. Tell your friends and family of your situationin only general terms, if you preferand make it clear that you want support. Seek out people who are positive and nurturing, and avoid those who will paint the world in even darker tones or blame you for what happened.