Getting Through Conflict: The Real Secrets to Happily Ever After

Life’s Dirty Little Secrets Podcast Episode #13 with Jonathan Shippey


Jonathan Shippey on Making Love Last Through Ups and Downs


In the latest episode of Life’s Dirty Little Secrets, therapist Jonathan Shippey gets real about what it genuinely takes to maintain a long-lasting, happy relationship. Spoiler alert: it’s not all fairy tales and magic wands. Instead, it’s about navigating through disagreements, understanding each other deeply, and continuously making small but meaningful changes along the way.

 The Funny Bump: Real-Life Relationship Moments

Picture this: two people, their heads bumping into each other. Sounds awkward, right? But that’s exactly what relationships are sometimes—full of minor but impactful misunderstandings. Jonathan brings up how crucial it is for both partners to feel heard and understood. He quotes a friend who says, “all behavior is a message and won’t change until the message is received.” This idea isn’t just applicable to romantic relationships but also to interactions with kids, friends, and coworkers. It’s a universal truth.

 Finding the Right Balance: The Tolerance Dance

Think of tolerance in relationships like trying to find the right balance between two moving parts. Get too close, and you might suffocate each other. Stand too far apart, and you risk drifting away. Jonathan talks about the times he’s leaned in too much or held back when he should’ve done the opposite. Learning to navigate this balance is crucial, especially during conflicts, to truly connect and understand each other. This dance of tolerance is about maintaining the optimal distance where both partners feel comfortable, respected, and heard.

 Happy Couples, Research, and Small Acts

John and Julie Gottman’s research shows that even deeply loving couples can develop bad habits during conflicts. Their studies focus on happy couples to understand what makes their relationships work. One major takeaway? The concept of “small things often.” It’s not about grand romantic gestures; it’s those tiny, everyday acts of kindness and thoughtfulness that add up to make a significant difference overall. Want to keep the spark alive? Try focusing on the little things—like a sweet text, cooking their favorite meal, or just genuinely listening about their day.

 Conflict: The Unexpected Bonding Agent

Conflict often gets a bad rap, but Jonathan flips the script by saying it’s essential for relationship growth. He stresses the importance of “fighting kindly”—not with the goal of winning, but with the aim to understand each other better. Conflict, if handled well, can act as an unexpected bonding agent. It’s not about avoiding fights but about using those disagreements to get to know each other more deeply and build a stronger bond. Handling conflict with kindness and empathy allows couples to navigate through tough times, strengthening their connection in the process.

 From Therapy Couch to Independence

Many couples seek therapy hoping to fortify their relationship. Jonathan explains that Gottman couples therapists aim to create “change moments,” those pivotal points where couples learn crucial skills to manage their relationship challenges independently. The ultimate goal? For the couple to become self-sufficient and proficient in handling their relationship dynamics by themselves. This independence means they won’t need to rely on therapy perpetually but can instead apply what they’ve learned to maintain and nurture their relationship.

 The Myth of “Happily Ever After”

Jonathan often reflects on the clash between the fairytale notion of “happily ever after” and the realities of real-life relationships. He suggests that the idea of consistently doing small things to keep a relationship healthy feels like a new concept, perhaps influenced by his experience as a couples therapist. Traditionally, marriages were built more on practical considerations—like wealth, status, or family alliances. Nowadays, they focus more on emotional connections and love. The key takeaway is to emphasize consistent, small efforts over rare, grand gestures to keep relationships thriving. It’s about doing the little things that keep the love alive on a daily basis.

 Handling the Little Stuff

Let’s face it—sometimes you deeply love someone but don’t love everything about them. Jonathan brings up the importance of addressing minor irritations, like bad breath. The “happily ever after” narrative can sometimes hold us back from asking for necessary changes, creating unresolved tensions. It’s totally okay to love someone and still want them to tweak certain habits for the betterment of the relationship. In fact, addressing these small issues early on can prevent them from turning into bigger problems down the line. The key is open, honest communication and a willingness to make adjustments for each other’s sake.

 Small Things Often: The Recipe for Relationship Success

A recurring theme in the episode is the idea of “small things often.” This concept emphasizes taking care of the current moment to build a better future. Even Dan Weil, a therapist admired by John and Julie, discusses this in his book “Solve the Moment.” He explains how addressing issues as they arise can lead to substantial improvements over time. The beauty of this approach is that it doesn’t require grand gestures or drastic changes; it’s about consistently doing small things to show your partner they’re loved and appreciated. These small acts accumulate, creating a strong foundation for the relationship.

 Simply Being There: The Power of Emotional Support

In a touching story, Jonathan recounts an exercise where people express their sadness to their partners, who then simply acknowledge that emotion. This simple act has led many to tears, as hearing “I won’t leave you alone in your pain” is profoundly powerful. Often, when someone is sad, our immediate reaction is to jump into problem-solving mode. But sometimes, the best thing you can do is just be there with them, offering emotional support and reassurance. This kind of presence and empathy can make a significant difference in the relationship, showing your partner that you’re there for them, no matter what.


Keeping love alive isn’t always easy, but it’s entirely possible with the right approach. Accepting conflict as a pathway to growth, doing small kind things often, and being emotionally present can all help you achieve your own version of “happily ever after.” Jonathan Shippey’s insights on navigating conflicts, maintaining balance, and making small adjustments remind us that real-world relationships are a work in progress, but the effort to nurture them is absolutely worth it. Remember, the little things you do every day can add up to create a lasting, loving relationship that stands the test of time.

If you are looking for help, please get in touch with our team of friendly therapists in Singapore who would be more than happy to help.