Give up… what you heard in marriage prep about NFP that doesn’t make sense for your marriage
If you went through marriage prep with me, you might have left with the belief that NFP was a magic pill that would make marriage and sex the greatest.
“You’ll only have to abstain for a week, and then hello honeymoon effect!”
“You will have better communication than those who use birth control, and you’ll not only have more sex, but better sex!”
“Husbands will easily be able to record their wives’ observations and it will be an easy way to share fertility and deepen intimacy.”
I heard each of these things in marriage prep and they all turned out to be either outright lies or half truths. It’s a strategy I like to call “selling the resurrection while hiding the crucifixion” and the outcomes aren’t good.
Periods of abstinence drug out to at least two weeks in accord with the rules of our methods, and navigating those periods with grace and patience did not come naturally to us. We were often frustrated and angry during times when we had been told to lovingly “explore other areas of intimacy.” It felt like we were having to revert back to dating. Compared to what we had been told in marriage prep, we felt like we must have been doing something wrong.
Our communication, like every other aspect of marriage, didn’t come easily either. Talking about sex, cervical mucus, or trying to understand each others’ expectations was awkward, uncomfortable, and in some instances, full of anger. Sharing the burden of charting was like pulling teeth, and there were times where I felt like I was putting in all of the work.
Despite all of that, NFP has helped facilitate a healthy sex life and marriage for us, but it didn’t happen the way we were told. The longer we’ve practiced this lifestyle, the more I’ve realized that the only reason it makes a marriage better is because very often it first makes it worse. It’s not an easy product to package and sell as it is, but the repercussions of selling such a product under false pretenses are immense. Jesus had no problem making an honest pitch of what following him would mean, even though many people walked away as a result.
There’s nothing to be gained by sugarcoating when we know the crucifixion is the condition of the resurrection. Make no mistake, a healthy, happy marriage and sex life is not achieved without a lot of hard work and struggle. The reason is simple: it is not natural for two selfish sinners to love each other with divine love. It is a dramatic tension that can only be resolved with the cross.
The reason NFP can make marriages better is because it forces couples to keep the tough stuff on the communication front burner. There will be times when it is unimaginably tough. With time and patience – and knowledge of the truth – it can become tremendously rewarding, edifying and beautiful.
Week 3 Challenge Question:
What did you hear in marriage prep that turned out to be unrealistic or untrue? What problems has that created for you personally or for your marriage? How can you let go of those things so you can embrace yourself and your spouse right where you are and grow towards Heaven together? How can you become a living witness of the beauty of the NFP lifestyle in a joyful and honest way?
Scripture and Prayer
So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is [unmarried]. … such people [married couples] will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that.
Only, everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one.
1 Corinthians 7: 26, 28, 17
[text in brackets added for clarity]
Father, St. Paul tells us that those who marry will have trouble in this life, yet we should each live precisely as we have been called. You have called my spouse and I to marriage, and in doing so have given us the very cross which will crush our egos. Father, we don’t like crosses. We naturally would prefer to give them up, but we know because of the life and words of your Son that they are the condition of Heaven. Taking up our cross is scary and confusing at times, and we don’t always see how your plans are for our benefit. Yet we endeavor to trust that you will only our good. Help us to carry our crosses together with patience and joy, knowing that while we may never have glory on earth, we will have it abundantly with you one day in Heaven.
Read this week’s Challenge Accepted from Kathleen
Michael and I always knew we would practice NFP. In our Pre-Cana classes, we were told about “the beauty and goodness” that NFP brings to your marriage, how taking on charting as a couple builds intimacy and an appreciation for each other, and how during times of abstinence, Michael would find creative ways to “court” me which would increase our longing for one another. It all sounded like a dream come true and we grew more excited for the beginning of our life together.
Cue our shock and disappointment when we found ourselves three years into marriage and bitter with each other over our life in the bedroom. He was bitter that I didn’t want sex as much as he did. I was bitter that it felt like all the weight of figuring out my fertile days were all on me, and if I determined a day was a fertile day he became angry and it was MY fault. Where was the beautiful marriage we were promised? We weren’t finding beauty, but rather anger, bitterness, resentment, and hurt.
Only now, after 7 1/2 years of marriage are we FINALLY starting to make progress.
The biggest “ah-ha” moment for us came only a few weeks ago as we prepared a Pre-Cana talk on “unity”, that ended up with us bickering back and forth over how he hates NFP, which I take great offense to. It was then that he finally laid it out in a way I had never considered.
He told me to imagine being a teenage boy growing up in a world where sex is rampant. It’s always on his brain. But then he is told about sex from a Catholic perspective: how NFP will facilitate unimaginable beauty, abstinence will only be required a few days a month, and desire will be there on both sides for the rest of the time. Then you finally get married and all the bliss you waited 10 YEARS to experience never comes. Instead you find yourself with only a few “safe” days a month, and on those days sex seems more like a chore to your wife than anything else. Instead of hearing about how much the Church loves sex, he wished he had been told that marriage is not “the light at the end of the tunnel”. That sex is a gift, but that it’s not a free-for-all beyond your wedding night. That it requires discipline, virtue, and chastity before AND after marriage. It requires compromise, understanding, and a painful dying to yourself.
What he was taught left him with great expectations greatly unfulfilled. And I felt for him.
From that moment, we chose to move forward together, shedding all of the false expectations that were drilled into us when they were trying to “sell” NFP to us. We are not in a perfect place yet, but we are finally finding mutual ground where we are able to sympathize with the other and forge a new path forward together. And it’s here, in the overcoming of trials together, that we are finally discovering the beauty in NFP.