Constance finds herself faced with a decision: would she stay with Clifford or would she leave him? She stops by London on her journey home from Venice. She travels with her father, and tells her that she is unsure if she will return to Wragby. She tells him about her pregnancy. The father suggests that she allow the child to remain the heir to Wragby, so long as Clifford did not mind that it would not be his own child. Her father is also glad to hear that she has had a real man.
Constance goes to her hotel, Hartland's, where a letter from Mellors is awaiting her. Mellors then arrives that evening in formal attire, as if he is a member of her own class. Something flows from him physically for Constance, and this allows her to feel at ease. She tells him about her child. He tells her he has mistrust of the future. She tells him that he need not be responsible; that she could make the child a baronet. This makes Mellors pay, and tells him he would take it if he is the real father.
She tells him that she would like to live with him. He responds that he has nothing to offer her, but she insists that he has more than most. She also reminds him that a relationship is not a bargain. Mellors responds that life must go somewhere, and that man must offer a woman some kind of meaning in life. He believes that he sees the point of his own existence, but he knows that no one else can understand this point. He also thinks that if there is to be a future, there must be a big change. Constance tells him that it is his tenderness that will help make the future. Mellors agrees. He too believes in bodily awareness.
Mellors takes Constance back to his place. He has a dread of putting a child in the world, he tells her. She tells him that he only needs to be tender to it. He realizes that he is too proud to hold back tenderness just because she has money.
Constance asks Mellors if he hates Bertha. He thinks that Bertha's deepest desire is to be a bully, and he thinks she should be shot. He nevertheless thinks it is a good idea for him to stay away from Constance until his divorce is final, in March. Constance mentions that the baby will be born in February. Mellors says he would also like to shoot Clifford.
Constance tells her father about Mellors. He believes that she is abasing herself, and he also does not like the scandal of the affair. He suspects that Mellors is merely after her money.
Hilda arrives in London soon after. She gives Constance the idea of using Duncan when Constance asks Clifford for a divorce. Constance will tell Clifford that she is going to run away with Duncan and that he has impregnated her. Mellors, upon hearing this idea, says that the world is a raving idiot.
Mellors takes a look at Duncan's art and does not think much of it. He thinks that his art murders all compassion in a man, and that it is full of self-pity and nervous self-opinion.
Duncan agrees to the plan of pretending to be Constance's lover, on the condition that Constance posed for him. Mellors confides in Constance that he thinks Duncan will only spit on her image; Constance responds that Duncan will only be painting his own feelings about Constance and no harm will be done.
Constance writes a letter to Clifford, requesting a divorce and claiming to be in love with Duncan. She tells Clifford in this letter that he did not care for her personally. Clifford is not inwardly surprised when he receives this letter, but he is outwardly. Clifford forces Mrs. Bolton to read the letter. Mrs. Bolton also thinks Clifford must have known inwardly, and she has little pity for him. She thinks she just needs to help him release his self-pity.
Clifford begins to suffer a kind of male hysteria. He allows himself to be held by Mrs. Bolton. He becomes like a child. However, outwardly he becomes a better businessman because of this ordeal.
Clifford insists that Constance come to Wragby Hall for him to grant her a divorce. When Constance arrives, she feels like she is the house's victim. At first, Clifford behaves politely, with a touch of insanity to his behavior. He then asks her how she feels about going back on her word. He does not believe she really loves Duncan more than anything. He is upset that she is smashing the order of their household.
This conversation drives Constance to tell Clifford the truth: she is in love with the keeper. This is an even more intolerable truth for Clifford. He cannot accept any connection of his own existence with that of the keeper. He calls her a perverted woman. He begins to see himself, in contrast to her, as the incarnation of good. He declares he will not divorce her.
The story ends with Constance leaving to live in London, away from Clifford. Meanwhile, Mellors goes to work on a farm for the duration of his divorce. The book closes with a letter from Mellors to Constance.
Clifford's emasculated reaction is a final condemnation by Lawrence of the intellectual who tries to possess others. Likewise, Bertha Coutts is the female version of Clifford: she too tries to exercise control over Mellors by "bullying" him. Lawrence sees the desire for possession defining social relationships between men and women especially. This desire to "possess" can be expressed through existing social institutions (such as marriage), through intellectual control (as Constance feels that Clifford has a superior mind to her own), social reputation (the fear of scandal makes Constance hesitate to do what her heart tells her to), or even through sexuality (as in the case of Bertha Coutts). This kind of relationship between people is one that is defined in terms of give and take, which treats individuals like entities to be possessed. It is related to a capitalist consumerist culture in which people are comprehended as if they are private possessions. Notably, in verbal expression, even Constance and Mellors find themselves thinking in terms of this kind of relationship. Mellors, for example, thinks about the fact that he has nothing to give Constance, but he also believes that he does not want to live off of her money. He then realizes that he should not let his own pride get in the way of his love. Constance tellingly reminds him that their relationship is not "a bargain."
When Clifford tells Constance he will not divorce her, he feels a moral superiority to her, in being able to call her a perverted woman. However, we can read through Clifford: his moral superiority is really his effort to assert possession of Constance through moral terms. Thus what society calls "taboo" is really just a way of controlling those who partake of practices that are deviant. This is Lawrence's condemnation of moral language: it is really an attempt to assert power over other people, rather than done out of a true goodness and understanding of another person.
The alternative for the "future" as Lawrence puts it here is for people to relate to each other through "tenderness." It is difficult to assign a real content to what Lawrence means by this, because he seems to have a distrust of the language that tries to capture the essence of "tenderness" as a value. Instead, it seems to be about a practice of care of one person for another, of a desire to really relate to them at the particular moment in which one interacts with them.