Entertainment TV Matt James Celebrates Rachael Kirkconnell Turning 25: 'Happy Birthday to My Emergency Contact' The former Bachelor lead honored the occasion with a carousel of adorable images of the two since their meeting on the ABC reality show in 2020 By Abigail Adams Abigail Adams Instagram Twitter Digital News Writer, PEOPLE People Editorial Guidelines Published on September 26, 2021 07:33 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Matt James has nothing but love for Rachael Kirkconnell on her 25th birthday. James, 29, celebrated his girlfriend's special day on Instagram Sunday with a carousel of sweet shots of the couple since they first met on The Bachelor in late 2020. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you - Deuteronomy 31:6," the former Bachelor lead wrote in the caption. "Happy Birthday to my emergency contact @rachaelkirkconnell ❤️🥳🎂," he added. "I love you." Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell on Overcoming 'Difficult' Time in Their Romance: We're 'Better' It's been a tumultuous year for the couple, who met on season 25 of the ABC reality show. Though they did not get engaged during the finale, the two decided to pursue a relationship until racially insensitive photos of Kirkconnell at an antebellum plantation-themed college party in 2018 resurfaced online while the season aired. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty After briefly splitting up, James and Kirkconnell eventually reconciled. In July, the two told PEOPLE that they have experienced plenty of growth as a couple following the Bachelor finale in March. Matt James/Instagram "I will say that, you know, of course it was difficult in the moment, but just being able to step back and work on our relationship to assess," Kirkconnell said. "Taking a moment away from the spotlight's been really good for us. It's been a lot better." The Bachelor's Rachael Kirkconnell Is in a 'Good Place' with Matt James: It Was 'a Journey' "I'm following the lead of everybody else," James added, regarding his approach to being in a relationship. "You know, I think that I look to people who have been where I'm trying to get to. Rachael's parents have been in a relationship for a long time. They've been married for probably about as long as I've been alive." Matt James/Instagram "So, you know, relationships that are prospering are what I kind of fix my eyes on and hope to emulate," he noted. The following month, Kirkconnell told Extra that "it was a bit of a journey" to get their relationship back on track, but felt they were "in a really good place" at the time. Matt James Says Girlfriend Rachael Kirkconnell Has Been Practicing His DWTS Routines with Him "We've had a lot of love come our way, but I like to think that even though people have been super, super nice, we just like to focus on each other and put all of that aside and let that outside noise stay a little more quiet these days," she told the outlet. "So it's been good though, we've been good." Matt James and Rachael Kirkconnell. Craig Sjodin/ABC via Getty James echoed Kirkconnell's sentiments, adding, "The importance has always been to seek authenticity ... and that is what drew me to Rachael and to go at our own pace — [and] not fall victim to other people's expectations. That's kind of what we continue to do, and it's working for us." Now, James has Kirkconnell's support as he competes on another ABC reality series, Dancing with the Stars. He told PEOPLE prior to the season 30 premiere that his girlfriend has even helped him rehearse: "She's been keeping me in shape!"