NFP & the Couple's Relationship
Author: Mary Shivanandan, STD
Couples who adopt NFP to space the births of children find that it brings about many positive changes in their relationship and even becomes a way of life. It begins with acceptance, and even wonder, at the way the human body is made. As one woman noted, "Knowing and learning about what goes on inside of my unique body amazed me."* Women especially find this information empowering. The woman gains a new respect for herself and often finds that her husband has a new supportive attitude: "My husband respects me as a person in my own right. He accepts my fertility as part of me." This new-found confidence contrasts with what one woman explained about how she felt using contraceptives: "I was required to sacrifice my health ... I felt as if I were an object and not an equal partner in our marriage."
Couples using NFP accept their fertility not as a nuisance or even a disease, but as a gift. When the physical pleasures of sexual intercourse are a couple's primary focus, the woman can feel used. NFP treats the woman not as a sexual object, but as the unique person she is. NFP does not downplay the importance of sexual union and sexual pleasure. Through the practice of periodic abstinence NFP helps couples to find other ways in which to be attentive to each other in each cycle. These other ways may be through cooking a favorite dish, or bringing home flowers. NFP can reignite the romance of dating for a married couple. As couples who use NFP often say: "Every cycle we have a wedding night." When spouses love one another enough to abstain and be more considerate of each other, both become more secure in their relationship.
Periodic abstinence is difficult at times. It also brings its own reward. Men find they can direct sexual urges in the service of love and not be controlled by it. Only if a man is in full possession of himself can he love his wife well. As one husband said, "NFP has challenged me to self-mastery so that I can freely give of myself." The nature of married love is total self-giving. If one is controlled by sex or withholds part of himself or herself (his or her fertility), that person cannot give totally to another. Self-mastery, on the other hand, can actually enhance sexual pleasure. Many couples explain: "Giving our whole selves to each other intensified the sensations of pleasure and the feeling of unity in this expression of our love."
When NFP is adopted as a lifestyle, fertility is regarded as a gift and children are valued and welcomed. A sense of awe at their power to procreate strikes many couples during the fertile time. One couple remarked that "NFP opened our hearts to children ... Children are a gift, a blessing, not a burden." Others have remarked that the time of fertility comes to be viewed with "a tremendous reverence" because fertility "is the time God created us to create." When a couple knows the most fertile time in the cycle and tries to achieve pregnancy, it becomes a shared joy.
NFP instruction puts the emphasis on a couple's shared responsibility not only for having children, but also for managing their combined fertility. Taking joint responsibility for fertility means that both spouses accept the challenge of abstinence during the fertile phase if they wish to avoid pregnancy. NFP requires couples to communicate. It helps them to talk about many things that may have been difficult to talk about before, including their sexuality. Through charting their fertility, they have a starting point for discussing the intimate aspects of their life, such as their sexual feelings and desires and their hopes or fears about pregnancy. Good, substantive interpersonal communication strengthens a marriage.
Many couples say that an NFP lifestyle deepens their faith in God. "(NFP) involved us with the Truth ....We experienced ... the conversion point in our lives." "NFP is putting ourselves in God's hands, totally allowing Him to work spiritually in our lives." With so many rewards for those who persevere with NFP it would be surprising if there were not also challenges. As one husband says: "The reality is that NFP is challenging .... (But) it is clear to me that working together through the tough times strengthens and enriches our marriage." And as another spouse says: "The value I experience in NFP is in the long run .... It forces you to place your immediate choices in the context of spouse, children, family and Creator."
Benefits of NFP
- Based on scientific fact;
- Cooperates with nature's design and treats each menstrual cycle as unique;
- Is effective for achieving or avoiding pregnancy;
- Can be used throughout a woman's reproductive life-time (e.g., post-partum, breast-feeding, perimenopause, etc.);
- Has no harmful side effects;
- Economical (fees typically charged only for first instruction);
- Values children;
- Requires mutual responsibility by husband and wife;
- Encourages couple communication;
- Fosters respect for and acceptance of the total person.
- Co-operates with God's design for spouses.
*All quotes of couples can be found in Mary Shivanandan's Challenge to Love (Bethesda, MD: KM Associates, 1981) and Crossing the Threshold of Love, A New Vision of Marriage in the Light of John Paul II's Anthropology. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999).
Mary Shivanandan, MA, STD, teaches at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage & Family, Washington, D.C. Dr. Shivanandan is the author of Challenge to Love, which discusses the philosophy of NFP and couple experience. Dr. Shivanandan has spent 20 years in research and writing on marriage, family, and NFP.