That monthly talk

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?

10 thoughts on “That monthly talk

  1. So well said, thank you!!
    I’m now used to it so it no longer surprises me, but I still find it frustrating how many people including the engage couples we work with during Pre-Cana assume that choosing as a couple to periodicly abstain will harm the relationship.

    Thank you for a beautiful testimony to exactly the opposite.

    • i know! my favorite is “no, my husband needs to ‘relieve’ himself every few days or he will go crazy.” um, wow. i don’t know how a person could feel more used (ok, I know there are far worse/more obvious ways of being used, but still. this one’s not looking too hot).

  2. Great post! I do wonder though how the “monthly talk” is different for couples who already have several children. I think that it is great to take time to talk about things, but I’m inclined to talk about children every day because I do not have any! I think that I’d feel differently if I had 3 children 4 and under. It would still be important to talk, but I don’t think that such couples typically have the same motivation/reasons for talking about “discerning their married vocation” so I imagine that things look quite different.

    Your thoughts on this for sub-fertile couples is the best that I’ve seen!

    And for faithful engaged couples, I wish that there were some way to tie the benefits of abstinence for avoiding conception naturally into traditional Christian abstinence along with the liturgical calendar. It seems as if *no one* gets this, even though I know that people must and just not talk about it.

    • i wonder about those who already have children too, since i’m sure we definitely have more time to talk about it. maybe someone with children could comment (if anyone with children reads this blog, ha!)
      and i’m curious what exactly you have in mind for engaged couples, as i don’t think I get quite what you’re saying? we do try to emphasize that those practicing abstinence in their engagement will find NFP easier to practice since they are already used to sacrifice, but i don’t think that’s what you’re talking about…

  3. We do have this talk monthly (and more often than that – and I’m sure this doesn’t surprise you!). I too agree, it helps the marriage on so many levels. While we don’t have heartbreak associated with sub-fertility (that we know of anyway), life certainly does through challenges at you that affect the decision to abstain or try for pregnancy. I can so see how a couple who is used to talking about fertility regularly would have this benefit when dealing with sub-fertility vs. a couple who never talked about fertility, stopped contracepting, and then dealt with sub-fertility – wow, what an eye opener to have to talk about things like mucous and cycles!.

    I am saying a prayer of gratitude that you and Mike talk as much as you do and that your marriage is continually strengthen through your communication.

  4. First of all, I don’t think you talk too much. Monthly (and more) is necessary at times and good. We may not have “the talk” in depth each month, but we do make sure we are on the same page and understand why. And then there are some times when we talk more than once a month.

    Even before considering sub-fertility, it is possible to have the groundhog feeling – we’re abstaining again?! Why? Oh yeah…that is serious and I can’t argue my husband’s judgment, but hard all the same knowing I had endo removed once already and then can lead to infertility. As for the sub-fertile let down of course, Day 1 is a harsh slap in the face. On the other hand, I thought summer would bring too much free time and depressed mood because I am not quite often patient, but I have been more joyful than usual. God has comforted me and brought me opportunities to volunteer at a pregnancy center, and to get more involved with NFP – teaching more classes, teaching intro seminars and (maybe) teaching it to my neighbor who is breastfeeding. Helping neighbors and being able to watch her children has been a joy. I have to count the blessings I do have instead of mourning those who may be yet to come. As for the conversation itself, leaning on each other and looking to my husband for guidance. I’m heartbroken and he is more even-tempered and totally trusting of God’s timing and will for our lives. What if I never have kids? My husband says I can still change the world. We do our best to build each other up, leaving room open for a desired child, but not living like we are “on hold” waiting for that child.

    That being said – it sounds like you are living life going to Mexico! I hope the preparations are going well :-)

    • you are an inspiration to me! thank you! and you know what? you’re totally right about Groundhog Day before trying to conceive…now that I remember it! I guess I just forgot about it, but yeah, those feelings are totally coming back!

  5. Maybe we’re the only ones, but we didn’t actually have the talk every single month at abstaining time. Not to say that it didn’t come up at other times each month, but when your reasons haven’t changed, there’s not much to talk about. Sometimes I felt like we were doing it wrong, because we weren’t having this amazing deep conversation come day 10, but I came to accept that each couple does it differently.

    I do think it’ll be interesting once baby arrives, though. We’ll definitely be talking more again about the actual practice, because I’m a bit nervous about the ecological breastfeeding. (Not the actual breastfeeding part, but the fact that there’s no temps and it’s all up to me to monitor my mucus, which I hear is difficult during that time!) And it should be interesting to figure out how to discern when you already have a baby. I’ll let you know if I learn anything once the time comes!

    • i understand what you mean when you say that when your reasons haven’t changed, there doesn’t seem to be much point to talk about it. i think this probably has a lot to do with the personalities of the couple too. when we were abstaining some months it would just be me saying “ughh, what are our reasons again?? i need a reminder” and less of an actual disscussion.
      and i do think it will be interesting to see how that changes after you’ve started having children! i’m not entirely sure, but i think the lines and reasons for abstaining would become a little more blurry since you’ve already had one. or they could get very clear if its particularly difficult! i’m excited to hear what you learn!

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