How to Love Happily Ever After

Cary and Robin

Lori Ann Lothian offers seven hard-won need-to-know stages of lasting love.


The first time I fell in love, I was 17.

I spent one whole year in a giddy daze, intoxicated with a Prince Charming three years older. He was handsome, athletic and smart. We fused at a party over discussions of our favorite authors and, by the night’s end, locked lips in a passionate goodnight kiss.

By year two of coupledom the prince looked more like a frog—with his irritating habit of preening before a party, or the way he needed to be right or even the roll of fat starting to accumulate on his belly. By the time I left for college I was bored and disillusioned. Two months of not-missing-him later, I ended things with a Dear John letter and soon after moved on to my next episode of falling-in-love with fairytale zeal.


Thirty years and a dozen romances later, the evidence is in: the in-love fireworks inevitably end up doused by a reality downpour. The soul mate whose eyes you could gaze into for an eternity is now, well, annoying the shit out of you. And then, there are all those expectations and dreams that somehow don’t seem to be coming true.

Wasn’t there a happily-ever-after clause in this contract?

Only in the land of Hollywood make-believe.

The idea that high romance lasts the duration of a love union is perpetuated by film and fiction. That mortal Bella in the best-selling novel and movie Twilight is willing to become a vampire to spend eternity with immortal Edward says it all. We are all looking for The One—meaning, the one who will last a lifetime (or more) and make us forever happy.

Relationship experts have been trying to tell a different story.

One love philosopher in particular, Daphne Rose Kingma in her book The Future of Love, explains falling-in-love is only the first stage of a seven phase soul growth journey. It’s a journey designed to take men and women into the valley of hidden emotional wounds with the goal of one day reaching the mountain top of self-realization. Yes, we aresupposed to suffer in our love life—it’s a part of the reason we fall in love to begin with. In the beginning we form a bond with the superglue of endorphins and projections just so we don’t give up when confronted with the quicksand and snake pits of real intimacy.

In my case, I now see I’d typically been dead-ending at stage four or five, also known as Ordeal and Chaos, and had I kept going I might have blissed out in the end stages of Surrender and Transformation.

So, for all of you couples in-love and out-of-love and in-between, here are the seven stages of relationship outlined by Kingma.

1) Romance: We all know this one. You fall in love. The world looks beautiful, your partner perfect and bliss is an everyday occurrence. You cocoon and spend more time alone than together with friends. You see all the ways you are so alike. Sex is hot and passionate, and you have a love drug high a lot like a dark chocolate buzz. You are with your soul mate, the person of your dreams.

2) Commitment: A pledge is made. This can be to get married; to live together; or simply to be an exclusive monogamous couple, or even just to date. At this stage emotions run the show. You dream of an ideal future and youfeel the love.

3) Crisis: Here something happens that upsets the happily-ever-after applecart. This could be a financial struggle, a disagreement about an in-law, a difference of opinion about goals or a fight about something big. This is the first moment where the dream erodes as the once unnoticed differences between you and your loved one are now starkly apparent. As Kingma writes, “The personality is disillusioned and now the work of the soul truly begins.


4) Ordeal: This is the proverbial power struggle. And it can go on for weeks, months or years. It’s a rut you find depleting yet comfortable. Kingma calls it the “meandering phase of the relationship.”  Here, issues keep coming to the surface (usually based on emotional childhood wounding) that never really get resolved. The same fights keep happening. Then you kiss and make up, but on the surface only. Underneath, resentment brews. This ordeal is a journey of intense emotional growth. Exhaustion happens, along with disappointment, hate and envy. As this power struggle rages, partners are faced with a choice, as Kingma writes, “to put the relationship back in a box, stamp their feet, and pound their fists on the wall and demand that it fulfill all their expectations on a psychological level—or they can start to grow.

5) Chaos: This is the black hole, the dark night, the bottom. All is lost, and you are lost. You feel out of control. Chaos is announced by one of the following behaviors: an affair, fights that don’t end, boredom—or the awareness that you have grown apart and there is no longer a common ground. In this zone, if couples don’t break up they often seek out relationship therapy, which Kingma notes can be an attempt to put things back into the box of the ordeal phase. Here the relationship is truly at a make or break place, and the gift can be equally in the make, or the break. “Chaos,” writes Kingma, “is an invitation to the spiritual level.” Humpty Dumpty is not necessarily better off being put back together again.

6) Surrender: Here, we can awaken. This stage holds the profound promise of something different. Surrender does not mean passivity, where in paralysis you stay in an abusive or truly miserable relationship. What surrender means here is giving up control of outcomes and instead embracing the possibility that an ending can be as healing as a continuation. Writes Kingma, “When you surrender, you give up your expectations, surrender to the process, and give in to what has occurred. It is spiritual because it assumes that a force greater than yourself is guiding the action and will be there to catch you, that you are not alone on the tight rope of your personality without a net.”

7) Transformation: Kingma dares to call this the true love phase. Here integration occurs. “The strength you have developed becomes your own. The tragedy you have lived through loses its ability to emotionally derail you. You are now a person who contains emotional and spiritual attributes which before, you did not possess.” At this juncture, you have grown a new you—you can never go back. Self esteem and self-love have landed. You might choose to grow the relationship to a new level, or simply move on because you know that the relationship will not grow you further. Transformation is a stage where you have nothing left to lose.

The reward of this seven stage love journey (though it may take several relationships to get there), is that it potentially gifts us with inner peace and authentic well-being. In Kingma’s words, it leads us to a place of the “grace of pure love—no axe to grind, no needs to whimper over or insist on being fulfillfed. Just love. Pure love.”


Originally appeared at Elephant Journal

About Lori Ann Lothian

Lori Ann Lothian is a sexy daring writer who challenges assumptions about love, sex and relationships in her columns at Huffington Post and elephant Journal and in feature articles at the Good Men Project, Origin Magazine, Yoganonymous, Better After 50 and more. Former editor of the relationship section of elephant Journal, she is now a senior editor at the Good Men Project. Follow her on Twitter andGoogle. Stay informed, sign up for Lori’s mailing list here.


  1. How does communication about boundaries/requests for change fit into this? In other words, what if there are things you feel OK with at the outset (in Romance and Commitment), feel a crisis about, have arguments about in Ordeal and still feel deeply bothered by as the dust settles and emotional intimacy increases?

  2. Relationships (mutually exclusive monogamous ones) are just a societal invention to try and provide some sort of stability and security for the offspring, which is a pipedream at its best.
    Free yourself from the expectations to breed and procreate, and you wil be free to pursue any kind of relationship you see fit.

  3. I believe that many people live with very unrealistic expectations of what life should be. It’s hard. Relationships are hard. Who said that we should be floating around on cloud nine all the time? I agree that what society tells us we should strive for, and what we are going to get, are not the same thing. Not even close.

  4. Very interesting piece.I certainly appreciate the neutral gender language.I continue to believe that our culture focuses far too much on being fulfilled,on being high on the emotion of being in love. Instead of developing practical skills,like true knowledge of self. The romance industry and our slavish,unquestioned, belief in its power to heal and keep the flames of love alive only forstalls the inevitable.I believe that this process can actually be self directed and growth realized before the soul crushing defeat of the affair that ends the marriage.This is why most therapy doesn’t work.It is too after the fact. The way we really are, worn, chipped, paint, beneath a fresh coat,is always with us and reveals itself in all aspects of one’s life.The roots of our collective denial and our general lack of self-awareness are embeded culturally.As such, we are naturally living in a state of bad faith. I would suggest that to hurt someone badly and then, after the fact, attribute it to a phase doesn’t feel loving.I don’t think that is a part of love. A therapist once told me that love and hate are opposite sides of the same coin. Not for me.But then again,what is love?One thing is certain,whatever love is,it is the exception rather than the rule. The truth seems to be that few of us are,without great concentrated effort, are capable of giving and recieving love.Moreover, most of us don’t know it.

  5. Having been married for almost 25 years, I find that some of these stages overlap, and that you can go back and forth between them. It is definitely not linear, not to me anyway. I feel like my husband and I have been through all of these phases, and then some.

    • Indeed, I think it’s a spiralling process. Reliving these phases through life, but going deeper at the same time. The seventh step surely is never fully integrated. The real difficulty I see in modern relationship is the cult of “I”, the ego. Making it almost impossible for modern women and men to “let go”, on a social level, but also on a personnal level.

      When chaos rise we take refuge in ourselve, seeking advice and protection from our inner circle, that think like us and see the world like us. Seldom do we surrender to life, to the process… In our world we seek control, over our life, and the life of others…

  6. Or you can get over the film-book driven craze of wanting to be with a partner/s and in case you are with one, see it as a bonus anyways. All these stages still assume that it is pertinent that one stays with or needs another.

  7. I read Kingma’s book several years back.

    Have you actually experienced going through all seven of these stages in you latest relationship, and are experiencing what she calls a “transformation” – or is this still an future vision in your life?

    In other words, are you talking about a theory here, or a lived praxis?

    • In my current partnership, I have lived through the surrender and transformation, yes. This is the man I chose to marry a year ago, and have been with for four years. Surrender and transformation is ongoing. There is an implicit understanding between us that the point of a relationship is not to be comfortable or to “make each other happy” but rather to discover and explore what it means to love without clinging, and to stay open to each other even in the midst of fear and chaos,

      • Thanks for responding. I’d be interested in hearing what that looks like for you and your partner, if you ever wanted to write something more personal than a book summary. And it would be interesting to hear it from his POV too.

        Maybe there’s a book in there!

  8. So, a relationship gives you to the strength to give up expecting to get what you want out of life and just be happy with whatever it hands you?

    • HI there. I am not sure how you came to this conclusion from the seven stages? The transformation stage is the crucible from which a relationship ends, and one or both partners leave transformed for the better. If the relationships survives surrender and transformation, then it’s a new and more real relationship….it certainly has nothing to do with sticking out a bad situation, but rather, the opposite.

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