The sympto-thermal NFP course that we teach covers not only the scientific explanation for why the method works and how to use it, but also how NFP promotes a more joyful marriage focused on true couple unity and why the Church teaches against contraception.
Unfortunately, many of our clients are engaged couples who have never heard a good explanation of this teaching. In these cases, the non-scientific part of the class is almost more important to them. Who wants to know how a method works if you don’t believe you should use the method in the first place?
For these reasons, we focus a good portion of the teaching time talking about how NFP helps your relationship. The knee-jerk reaction to learning about the abstinence required to use NFP is to question how denying intercourse can bring two people together. It seems contradictory at first. We point out that many times during a marriage either couple will be required to abstain for the other, whether if its for sickness, business travel, or after childbirth. There are also many ways to be intimate and foster unity without being sexual. One thing we like to focus on is how denying this act promotes dialogue about where each person is at in the relationship and their desire to grow the family, because unlike business trips when abstinence is required in order to have a job to provide for one’s self and family, this abstinence is required in order to respect the couple’s mutual fertility.
For the fertile couple
The physical denial of your spouse helps you feel that sacrifice for your future children in a very real sense. Having this sacrifice makes you talk about your deepest feelings all the more. This isn’t in the “Oh, if you can talk about mucus, you can talk about anything!” sense (although it may help), but more because having this conversation allows you the opportunity to discuss your values and internal struggles on a regular basis. Where one couple might discuss the issue once and then not again for a few years, the NFP couple is almost required to revisit the conversation and contemplate these serious issues with each passing cycle. It becomes like a monthly check-in to make sure the other is continuously discerning their married vocation (if these conversations aren’t happening more frequently). Even if the conversation doesn’t directly happen each month, each couple is aware of the sacrifice that is taking place in order to reach their goal. For my husband and I, having to revisit this conversation each month and weigh our situation ultimately helped us realize that our reasons for avoiding children were less grave than we thought. It also helped us talk directly about our intimate fears regarding how children would change our lives. And that ultimately allowed us to overcome them.
For the sub-fertile couple
I’ve struggled more recently with what purpose the that monthly talk gives to the sub-fertile couple. Sometimes it feels like Groundhog’s Day: the same thing just keeps happening over and over and you keep ending up in the same spot. If the fertile couple ever dreading having to repeat that same conversation of why they’re abstaining yet again, the sub-fertile – and especially the infertile couple – dreaded it 10x more.
Yet I think in this case it becomes even more important for the couple to spend that time coming together and reflecting on the unity they are called to. It seems like its easy to focus on just what you’re not getting, about what isn’t happening. You’re willing to make the sacrifice to have children and you’ve discussed this a million times over, but nothing changes.
Inadvertently I’ve realized over these last months how important these monthly conversations with my husband are to renewing our martial bond and our faith. We cry and get the frustration out, but we also take steps to move on. To look at the positive and focus on what we can do as a couple during this time we don’t have children. We try to not focus on a pity party (ok, actually I do but my husband doesn’t let me!). And despite the heartbreak, we both always feel very refreshed and renewed after that time together. It also helps having a distinct time to mourn and deal with the sub-fertility issue so that it doesn’t consume us completely for a whole month (even though we do revisit the topic often).
The fact that divorce is more common for couples going through sub/infertility is another kick in the pants for us to remember that no matter how hard that conversation is to have and how much it may feel like we’re just talking about the same thing month after month, it is really important that we come together during that time and have that conversation.
Anyway, what do you think? Does this month talk happen with you? Do you think we talk too much? Ha! How do other sub-fertile couples deal with this Ground-hog’s Day conversation?