Location: Charlottesville, VA (as of two weeks ago!)
Years Married: Three. And they’ve been lovely.
Kids: Two-ish. We’re due with our second baby girl in November.
Occupation/Hobbies/Etc.: Ryan is a dad and first-year law student at the University of Virginia; Jeni is a mom and then a small business owner. We included “dad” and “mom” because heavens, parenting is work (and it’s the most fulfilling kind)!
Other fun facts: You can read more about Ryan & Jeni on their personal blog. Jeni also helps run The Small Seed and just started an incredible new business called Let's Playground.
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?
J & R: The little things go such a long way! We talk to each other. About everything. That can be assumed since we’re married, but we really try to keep things especially open between us. We decided when we were first married that we would be each others' first therapist, first sounding board, and first confidant. That’s kept us so close emotionally.
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?
J: Ryan listens to me. He listens to my worries, fears, frustrations, and hopes, which I so appreciate. My marriage is such a safe place because I am heard, and what I have to say is respected.
R: Jeni has been a great supporter of my personal goals and frequently expresses her confidence in my ability to achieve them. Even though these expressions of confidence are seemingly small, knowing of her confidence in me has helped me achieve so much more than I ever would have without her cheering me on.
Q. What specific ways has continued dating in marriage nurtured your marriage? Why do you feel dating is so vital in nurturing a marriage?
J&R: Gosh, dating keeps your love young. A date is dubbed a “date” because you’re (hopefully) doing something together that’s not typical of your routines, right? A date is all about something special. Making time for each other that is special makes our relationship feel special.
Q. What has been your favorite date you have been on together?
J&R: Does a vacation for the two of you count as a date? It does, yeah? :) We've loved skipping away for our anniversary - Park City was our go-to place when we lived in Utah. We also skipped away to San Francisco for a weekend last winter and that was an absolute dream. We rented bikes for a day and saw the city that way, and we'd do it all again this very second. Traveling together is a favorite for sure. Our go-to, favorite date, however, is tennis. We both play (one of us is better than the other...) and we love that we can play together. That game will be "our game" our entire lives.
Q. What are the obstacles you have faced in going on dates, and what have you done to ensure that dates happen?
J&R: Consistently going out on dates has been our biggest obstacle. If we aren’t very deliberate about planning something awesome to do – away from home – we often find ourselves doing something together at home. And that’s fine (it’s also cheap!), but the dates where we go out and do something special are definitely our favorite ones.
Q. What does it mean to you to have an intimate relationship with your spouse?
J&R: An intimate relationship is a unique one, shared between the two of you. For us, we try so hard to not share any frustrations that we have with each other with other people. Being each other’s first (and only, depending on the situation) listening ears has been one of our goals since the beginning.
Q. There are many forms of intimacy in marriage, emotional intimacy being one of them. What does emotional intimacy look like to you, and what things have helped you draw closer together emotionally?
J&R: How funny – we almost answered that in the last question! We really feel like emotional intimacy is key to a strong marriage. It’s the bedrock of physical intimacy, in our minds. When we can trust each other with our feelings – the true, good, bad, and ugly – we can trust each other physically. We’ve experienced that being completely open with each others' feelings, and even more respectful with them, fosters trust, safety, and some solid emotional intimacy.
Q. What other things help you nurture the intimate relationship you have with your spouse?
J&R: Be together! We have to be present with each other to feel close to each other. Dating helps immensely, of course, but even just putting away the work, techno gadgets, and to-do lists and being present has nurtured a feeling of togetherness between us.
Values to Live By
Q. What is your spouse’s strongest trait?
J: Ryan lives life very deliberately. He makes plans, he has goals, and he does what he commits to do. He’s amazing.
R: It’s hard to narrow it down to just one, but I have always admired Jeni’s ability to help others feel good about themselves. Throughout her life she has worked to develop this trait and as a result she has been able to be a light in many lives.
Q. What is your favorite characteristic about your spouse?
J: His easy laugh. I’m the funniest person alive when I’m with him.
R: Jeni truly understands her life’s purpose and who she wants to be. She lives each day with these things at the forefront of her mind and it is very evident in her habits and everyday decisions.
Q. How have those qualities nurtured your marriage?
J: Because Ryan is very focused on his goals, I feel so fulfilled even in the day-to-day stuff. We have a plan for life and I love that. His easy laugh, too – that just makes me feel awesome, and when you feel awesome in the eyes of your spouse, you think they’re awesome in return.
R: For one, Jeni’s consistent goodness makes her somebody that I just want to be around. She is an example and somebody that inspires me to be better. Wanting to be together certainly is nurturing to our marriage. My absolute trust in the goodness of Jeni’s heart has also helped us avoid some of the conflicts that can deteriorate a marriage. Sure, we have disagreements from time to time, but it’s easy to not let those instances get in the way of our love when I know that she so deeply wants to do the right thing.
Routines and Rituals
Q. What things do you day-to-day that keep you connected?
J&R: We pray together in the morning, keep in touch throughout the day when we’re apart, eat dinner as a family, and pray again at night. The little things are like brushing your teeth – do them consistently and well, and you’ll find a clean, connected marriage.
Q. Do you have any special places, things you say to each other, or other mini-traditions that are unique to your marriage?
J&R: “I’m obsessed with you” – we tend to say that to each other often. We even have a sign for the phrase when in a crowd. It’s a quick glance up and to the left with a little head tilt. We have to catch each other’s eye, though, to send the message, which means we have to (semi-creepily) stare at the other until they notice. But we’re okay with that.
Q. Do you have any routines/rituals around special occasions like anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, etc.
J&R: We try and do all the typical stuff for the special occasions - give gifts, plan fabulous dates for the anniversary, you know - but we also try and make the typical stuff special.
J: When we lived in Utah, if Olivia and I stayed in St. George (that is "home" for both of our families) longer than Ryan, he'd tend to have flowers waiting for us when we got home. And a clean house. (!!) Something special for a more typical thing. That kind of a typical ritual is coming to define our marriage and I love it.
R: Jeni will make my favorite meal at extra busy times of the semester, or she'll pick up mac n' cheese (my favorite) because it's Friday and I'm ready for the weekend or something. That's a simple but fun routine.
Q. What specific suggestions can you share that have helped you work through challenges that have come up in your marriage?
J: Don’t harbor the hard feelings. That was something I had to really practice after we were married. I could not keep the things that bothered me inside, expecting them to just drift away. I learned pretty quickly that Ryan needed to be told if I was unknowingly hurt or annoyed by something. I have to fill him in. Husbands don't read minds, and that's okay.
R: Laugh. You can get angry or you can laugh in certain situations. And laughing is way better.
Q. How has working through conflict together nurtured your marriage and brought you closer together?
J&R: Love is what you go through together – that’s one of our favorite mottos. When you get through the disagreements and discrepancies between your personalities, you’ve done something kind of hard and you’ve done it together! It’s kind of like hiking uphill– there are steep, hard sections of the climb, but once you reach that summit together, you’re stronger and better and happier.
Q. You are still married. What is your secret to a happy marriage?
J&R: We have to say it again because it’s true - be each others' first therapist, first sounding board, and first confidant! That’s worked wonders for us. We feel close and safe and, well, in love because we are each others' “firsts.” And laugh. A lot.
"There is properly no history; only biography."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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