How many years have you been married? A whopping 1 ½ years.
Location: Santa Clara, California
Occupations: R:Emily works for the Stanford MBA Admissions office. I work at a Big-4 Accounting Firm. I’m boring. She’s fun.
Hobbies: E: Anything new. Anything with good food. Anything with people we love (friends, family). R: You will quickly find that Emily is a F.O.O.D.I.E.; E: One week we find ourselves playing tour-guide with those who visit, and the next week we find ourselves gazing up at huge redwood trees. R: Yup, we really like the outdoors, and there is plenty of it here in the bay area. And we are taking advantage of the kid-less stage of our marriage and hitting up some great sporting and music events.
The Little Things
Q. Will you share with us some of the little things you do together, or for each other, that nurture your marriage?
E: We always try to plan a thoughtful date night - something that includes good food and an atmosphere where we can catch up from the week. Richard also packs surprises in my purse sometimes, before I go to work.
R: Yeah, but it’s funny because no matter how much I do, Emily always seems to do more for me. She’s just too good! Emily tries really hard to help me keep my hobbies going - music, golf, etc. She makes my important things, her important things.
Q. Can you give us a few examples of things he/she has done for you that may seem small, but that have made a big difference?
E: Richard still always opens my car door, which may seem like a generic thing, but to me it symbolizes that when we got engaged he promised that he would always love me and care for me; that small gesture is a symbol that he always means what he says.
R: Oh, what? I thought she just didn’t know how to open a door. That makes more sense.
E: On the same note, he also promised when we got engaged that he would always surprise me - they are small surprises - but they always make my day. A small chocolate bar in my purse, a fort in the living room, a note on the counter wishing me a good day. My favorite will always be when he left on a business trip and decorated one of our pillows with his shirt and a baseball cap to hug while he was gone.
R: I came home the other day to a house decorated for Halloween. It was a relatively small thing at the time - a few things from the dollar store, but it made me feel like I was coming home. I am grateful Emily works so hard to make our little apartment a home where we can celebrate life, and not just live through it...She also makes a specific effort to look nice during the intimate times in our relationship. I know that after a long day she must be tired and the only thing she wants to do is get in her PJs, but it means a lot to me that she makes that extra effort for me.
Q. What specific ways has continued dating in marriage nurtured your marriage? Why do you feel dating is so vital in nurturing a marriage?
R: For one, our communication. Emily and I have very different communication styles and it will take us all of our lives to learn to communicate effectively; with each date we learn more of what is important to the other partner. Communication during the week is often filled with the logistics of life, ("We need to do wash...will you pick up a loaf of bread on the way home...will you be working late tomorrow?") but when it is just us, we focus more on our relationship and the things that are important to us individually. Emily has told me many times that it is important to her to feel like we are always in our dating-stage of life. I think that what she means by this, is that she always wants to feel like we are putting effort into growing closer to each other, and not just roommates sharing the same house.
E: Amen to that.
Q. What has been your favorite date you have been on together?
E: Ugh, that’s hard.
R: Every date I plan is your favorite, right?
E: Yes… except for that afternoon at the Oktoberfest where we decided eating sauerkraut covered bratwurst and candy corn in the hot sun was a good idea.
E: One of our favorite dates was our last anniversary date. We rented a hotel close to our home (It’s just fun to be in a hotel, you know?!). In the morning we had breakfast at this yummy diner we found on Yelp, and then headed to the city where we rented bikes, flew kites at Crissy Field, and road over the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito for a ferry ride back across the bay. We then enjoyed a wonderful Indian dinner and traveled home for ice cream and a movie on the couch. Again, that was for our anniversary - we don’t usually do things that extravagant - but it’s nice to put some time and effort into our dates as often as we can.
R: Let me add that the reason why that day was so fun was because Emily helped me plan it. One of the best things we have ever done for our marriage is to shift to planning our birthdays, anniversaries, and parties together. It’s fun every once in a while to surprise the other spouse, but we have found that the anticipation and choosing exactly what we want, works really well for us. And I don’t have to feel the pressure of planning a perfect anniversary (which I would be horrible at - really).
E: So true. We have found it’s much better to plan together. I have a horrible habit of dreaming a little too big. If Richard comes home and says he has a surprise, I immediately think, “We’re going on a trip to Paris!”
Q. What are the obstacles you have faced in going on dates, and what have you done to ensure that dates happen?
E: The usual answer for this would be kids and work; but seeing that we are in a kid-less stage, and we get off at a good time on Fridays, our main obstacle is money. Living in an expensive area and trying to save for the future, we don’t have lots of discretionary income to spend on dates. We’ve done all the freebies, and have now moved on to Groupons.
R: Man, I have bought so many Groupons.
E: Often we spend our date-night budget by mid-month, or we spend most of it on one big event (concert, play, sporting event). So by then we find the silly activities from our college days to be really fun. Really, it’s just the time spent together that makes the most difference.
Q. What does it mean to you to have an intimate relationship with your spouse?
E: To know the little things - his likes and dislikes; his goals for the future; talents he’s trying to develop and what brings him the most happiness in life. I think once you know those things, anything you can do to help him feel, do, or experience those, will bring you closer together. I think the other part of intimacy is being willing to be vulnerable. If you can open up to your spouse about your true desires in life, it creates the deepest bonds for an intimate relationship.
R: I agree with Emily here. I’ll add that an intimate relationship feeds on trust. Loyalty and fidelity in mind and body is super important to keep an intimate relationship between your spouse. My intimate physical needs are different than hers, and her intimate emotional needs are different than mine; but we work to understand and satisfy those needs. Emily is amazingly selfless and has taught me a lot about sacrificing for your spouse. She will make the extra effort when she is tired, if she knows that it is something that would make me happy. And I try my hardest to do the same for her.
E: He does do the same for me, even more so. Our back-rub ratio is heavily slanted toward me.
Q. What does emotional intimacy look like to you, and what things have helped you draw closer together emotionally?
R: Man, these are deep. Emotional intimacy to me is the need to feel loved, validated, understood, or wanted. It is being connected with your spouse on a deep- friendship level, sharing the most intimate and personal desires together for the benefit of your relationship. I struggled at the beginning showing Emily the flawed part of myself, because I wanted her to think of me in some super-natural perfect-human way. But knowing someone’s flaws and seeing them try even harder helps you love them more. We have drawn closer to each other as we have had the hard conversations (finances, loyalty, fidelity, expectations, personal needs), knowing with confidence the other spouse will respect what we say.
Q. What other things help you nurture the intimate relationship you have with your spouse?
E: Trying to keep tabs on our temper, or lack of patience, and remembering how much we love our spouse. And despite our frustrations, always speaking and treating our spouse with love and respect. Nothing crumbles a marriage quicker than hurtful words spoken too quickly. Richard is especially good at being loving and kind when he is upset.
R: What? How could I ever be upset with you?
E: Easily… very easily. haha!
Values to Live By
Q. What is your spouse’s strongest trait, or what is your favorite characteristic about your spouse?
E: His bum. His blue eyes. Also, he is incredibly perceptive of other people’s needs. He can tell if I am feeling overwhelmed before I can. He can sense in an email from his mom that she is missing her kids. This trait is two- part because not only is he quick to perceive these emotions in the people he loves, but he is also selfless enough to act immediately. Whether that be a phone call to his Mom, or running a few errands to help me finish a project, he is always ready to act. I’m always slow to ask for help until I’m a complete wreck. Luckily, Richard never makes me ask. He is there to give me a long hug before I even realize that a hug is all I really want.
R: Emily is full of life - she’s not afraid to laugh or cry. She takes advantage of the small celebrations as much as the big holidays (I think she threw me three birthday parties last year!). Plain and simple - she makes my life so fun. She’s also amazingly selfless and smart.
Q. How have those qualities nurtured your marriage?
E: It reminds me daily that Richard cares about how I am feeling and is actively working to make my life better. It also shows me that he listens to me always, even when I am just mumbling under my breath. I’m always baffled by how much he loves me and I’m so grateful for him.
R: I have a tendency to focus on making life what I want it to become, instead of enjoying it for what it is. Emily won’t wait for the weekend to have fun, and she keeps us on our toes with the fun things that are going around us.
Routines and Rituals
Q. What things do you do day-to-day that keep you connected?
E: We cuddle. I love to cuddle. I don’t know what it is, but I could cuddle for days and never get enough. I just fit so nicely in his shoulder nook.
R: Oh, brother. But seriously, the girl loves to be cuddled. We do all the normal stuff - text throughout the day; kiss and hug when we leave for the day and when we get home; call each other at lunch or on the train ride home, etc. But one of the biggest things is that, thanks to Emily, we don’t wait for the weekend before we enjoy life. We have fun things planned in the evening, granted I get off at a good time.
E: Don’t forget inside jokes. Oh, the inside jokes. Movie quotes, funny voices, weird faces… you’ve gotta mix things up in life.
Q. Do you have any special places, things you say to each other, or other mini-traditions that are unique to your marriage?
E: “Swapsies” - trading back messages. We have a creamery that we have frequented more often than we would like to say - it is our go-to for celebrations (and sad days). We love going on Sunday walks and talking about the week ahead of us. We talk about getting a pig and naming it Jezebel. We talk about Jezebel like she is already our pet.
R: Took me a while to get on board with the pig idea.
Q. Do you have any routines/rituals around special occasions like anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, etc?
R: Like I said, Emily celebrates everything. Food is a big part of holidays. Our anniversary is on the same weekend as Mother’s Day and her birthday, so I have that week cut out for me each year. I make sure it is a bigger celebration. Family is also very important to us. We both want to be close to our families (in relationship and location) now, and in all the years to come.
Q. What other values and principles bless and sustain your marriage?
E: Hiring a cleaning lady. Just kidding. Not kidding...but seriously, if you know you are going to keep your car for twenty years, you treat it better than a rental. Richard and I believe we will be together forever- for this life and together after we pass away. We work hard now, because we know there is so much happiness to enjoy now, and in the future.
R: I agree 100% with what Emily said. Something else that has made a notable difference in our marriage is our understanding of the role money has played, and will play in our lives. So many problems in marriage can be born with the stress and burdens that come with money. Emily and I decided that throughout our life we were going to focus spending our money on memories and people we love, above all else. If we had the choice to save up for a new kitchen table, or a fishing trip to Alaska, we would do the latter. Further, we have an understanding of each other’s expectations for finances - where we both realistically want to get financially in order to feel comfortable and satisfied. This helps us stay balanced with career aspirations and the other main priorities we have set in our lives.
R: It also stops me from quitting everything and moving to Canada to open a bed and breakfast (which I would absolutely love to do).
E: Ahh, here he goes about Canada again…
Q. What specific suggestions can you share that have helped you work through the challenges that have come up in your marriage?
R: We know each other well enough that we both really want the same thing in life. However, sometimes we just have experience in different ways of doing things. For example, if the topic of deciding if we want our kids to have an allowance comes up, and it is manifested that we have very different opinions (and it becomes slightly heated), we try to step back and say, “Ok, well we both know that we want our kids to be fiscally responsible, thrifty, and hard working...but we also want them to enjoy their childhood and not stress too much in that stage of life.” At this point, we both agree unanimously on the principle and idea. Then we can speak open-mindedly, not feeling like we are being rail-roaded, or attacked, into what we think is the best way to get there.
E: I'm shocked that I even have advice to give, having only been married a short time, but challenges arise on week one! You've barely unwrapped the wedding presents before the stresses of life come through and burst your newlywed-bliss bubble. When I think of challenges, I often think of curve balls that life throws at you-- car issues, death of a family member, finding housing out-of-state (some of ours). These situations would be stressful for anyone, so the key is not to take that stress out on your spouse. It's hard because we're human and we want to be mad at someone or something, but sometimes things in life just happen. The best thing you can do is remember that you are on the same side. Working together on a problem will inevitably turn out much better than pushing undeserved blame or stress on your partner.
Q. How do you talk about hard things together, where you don’t see eye-to-eye?
R: I can almost predict when Emily and I will get into a disagreement - it always seems to be right before something important happens in our life - right before a concert we have been looking forward to, right before a trip to see our family, right before date night. It just seems to happen that way. When that happens, I try to remember how good of a person Emily is. I know that she is smart, fun, and a generally good-natured girl. If I get into this mindset of focusing on her positive qualities, it will usually help me turn my attention to finding the real problem. Then, if we focus and talk about that issue at a high-level, while being reasonable and patient, things tend to turn out right. And above all else, it’s amazing what an apology will do. We’re not perfect people, and that’s OK. But I think it’s important for me not to expect that my spouse is going to be perfect, or that she should be perfect. What a high and hard expectation to put on someone you love so much!
E: Richard and I just see things differently, and I mean we literally SEE things differently. I can recall recently bantering back and forth on whether a shirt was blue or green. When we still couldn’t agree, I made him take a hue color test (I can be a mule sometimes). When he scored better than me I was so peeved! Hah! Anyways, I digress…
E: I don’t think it matters if you see the world the same way, see an issue the same way, or see the solution to a disagreement the same way. The important thing is that you sincerely try to see your partner’s side of things. Often times there are multiple solutions to the same problem, so when you try to understand your spouse’s reasoning, you end up understanding your spouse better.
E: Also, it’s important to be sensitive during times when your spouse is sharing their feelings about a hard subject. Maybe it was hard for them to express their feelings or maybe it was hard to be open and honest about a touchy subject. If you laugh or make a sarcastic comment then they might lose trust in you, and be unwilling to share with you in the future. No matter what the situation, you should always show your spouse love and gentle respect for the information they share. And apologize… often.
Q. What principles and/or practical suggestions have helped you, as a couple, manage your finances? What marriage-related financial tips could you share with other couples?
R: Oh, whoops, I kind of answered this earlier. Probably just to say it again - I think it’s important to get on the same page on the “role” you want money to play in your life. It’s totally fine to have money be a driving force and a goal to work towards, but you need to make sure both partners are on the same page, and willing to give up what you need to for that goal. Complete transparency on spending, budgeting, and earning money can bring some amazing peace.
E: Money is important, but it will never bring happiness. It can bring comfort and security, but not happiness. On a less abstract level… envelopes. Richard has taught me the importance of saving for the future and the best way right now to do this, for us, is the envelope system. We just switched from being a single-income family to a double-income family, but we are still keeping the envelope system!
Q. How has working through conflict together nurtured your marriage and brought you closer together?
R: Life has some amazing challenges awaiting us. Emily and I decided we are in this for the long haul and we know if we don’t keep strengthening what we have, it won’t last very long. Conflict is vital to a successful marriage, because it strengthens us for our future trials in our life.
E: I don’t like conflict. I wish everything was rainbows, chocolate and unicorns, but it’s necessary. The more conflicts Richard and I work through, the closer we feel to one another. When we smoothly work through a conflict there is a sort of confidence that is instilled in our relationship. Once we jump one hurdle, we can jump the second one much more easily.
Q. You are still married. What is your secret to a happy marriage?
E: Be obsessed with your spouse. I’ve admired and adored Richard since our first date. I keep adding to the story in my mind of his wonderful qualities and his incredible personality. Life isn’t like the movies, but it is better because it’s real. Treat your marriage like a fairy tale, and soon you will realize that it is - your own fairy tale.
R: I always seem to enjoy life more when I focus on making Emily happy. At first I feel like I am doing her a favor, but then everything changes and she serves me right back in an even bigger way. It’s almost a game of helping the other spouse out the most (and Emily always seems to win)...Man, I love her.
"There is properly no history; only biography."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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