This is the seventh in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning. To read previous posts, click here. To read the post that originally inspired this project, click here. To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.
When my husband and I graduated from college about 15 years ago, we belonged to a perhaps unusual social group (although not that unusual if you hang around Catholic colleges): we and a bunch of our friends were getting married in our early twenties and were gung-ho for NFP. We had heard lots of talks about the evils of contraception and many testamonials about the wonders NFP did for marriage. Above all we were eager to live as young Catholics who were faithful to the Church.
However, almost all of our cohort of friends, including us, abandoned the practice of NFP within a few years because of the strain to our marriages. This wasn’t the healthy strain and struggle of trying to live virtuously. It was the strain of doing something that was actively hurting our relationships.
For some it was the way it led to poor decisions about when to have children. (One marriage was struggling and close to failing and the couple chose to risk conception so that they could have greater intimacy and bonding during that difficult time in their relationship. The added strain of the child they conceived to the problems they already had was the last straw in their marriage.)
For others it had to do with the inability to work through sexual problems (e.g. painful intercourse) because NFP required long periods of abstinence when they couldn’t do the exercises their therapist was recommending.
For another couple it had to do with the wife’s irregular cycles that would frequently mean going for months without intercourse.
Even now, I know my husband and I would never go back. We have four young kids and are exhausted at the end of most days. The chances for all the stars to align for us to be sexually intimate are rare enough as it is without more days blocked out by the NFP calendar. I don’t think anyone can accuse us of not being open to life (heck, we are even thinking about going for #5), but I think NFP at this point would mean sacrificing the unitive part of our marriage. So we are contracepting for the sake of our marriage.
There are lots of people who have had good experiences with NFP. But there are also a lot of people who have whole heartedly embraced it and had very negative experiences. (And I should add: for some, this has broken their relationship with the Church because of the resentment they feel about this and/or their ongoing sense of being rejected for doing what was best for their marriage.) The Church really needs to listen to the experiences of both groups.
I have found that priests and bishops are quick to trumpet NFP success stories and quick to discount stories where NFP had a negative impact. They assume the couple just wasn’t trying hard enough. Clearly, this is not always the case.
Thank you X for sharing your story. To my knowledge there is no other place on the internet where women can speak honestly about NFP AND disagree with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
My husband and I were the poster couple for NFP. We were also surrounded by other couples who were very zealous about NFP. We have learned a great deal over the past 15 to 20 years by observing and sharing our life with couples who use NFP and those who use contraception. I see no better or holier marriages in the NFP using couples.
We too found NFP to be the strain of doing something that was actively hurting our relationship. This led us to further study and examine the church teaching on contraception being “instrinsically evil” After much study and prayer we came to the conclusion the church is not infallible on this teaching and couples need to form their conscience and follow it. They will stand before God not the Magisterium when they die.
This issue is the elephant in the living room in the church. I know in my own community of 20 years I could not talk openly about my thought process or the conclusions I made. Even today I find there is not open dialogue either online or in person with those who believe you must obey the Magisterium at all costs. It has created such division in the church.
I also have seen NFP using couples divorce. Ironically it appears to me that the divorce is looked at as less of an issue than is the couple used contraception.
Priests also have to remain silent if they dissent from this teaching. If they admit (in public) there may be circumstances when contraception is acceptable they are silenced. They may freely admit this in the confessional.
We were not afraid of sacrifice nor were we looking for the easy way out. We just took a closer look at what God was asking us to do given our circumstances and abilities to care for the children we already had.
I have heard many NFP teachers and supporters go out of their way to encourage couples to have children in situations that are entirely inappropriate. I have heard things like “there’s nothing like a baby to bring a troubled couple together,” or “having a baby when your teens are giving you a hard time brings some joy back in to parenting,” This compounds the problem you mentioned about accidental conceptions when the couple is already under severe marital strain.
Choosing to quit NFP must have been a difficult decision at the time for you and your husband, given your involvement in the movement. I am interested in hearing about your feelings related to this. You also mentioned in your opening paragraph about your desire to live as young Catholics faithful to the church.” From the sound of the rest of your article, it sounds like you are satisfied with your decision but do you feel as though you are faithful to the Church?
I truly appreciate this venue to share some of the hushed experiences of NFP.
This quote, from Cardinal Müller, came across my newsfeed this morning “Every married couple who places God at the center of their conjugal life discovers with joy and amazement that their love is nourished every day and grows. Perhaps without even realizing it, they become witnesses of God’s faithful love for all those around them, chiefly for their own children.”
Evidently it’s from is recent response to Kasper (though I am not certain of that) and I assume he intends to say that placing God at the center of conjugal live does not include limits on conception. It’s reassuring to hear faithful voices, who have been open to unity and life, yet not finding NFP nourishing.
“Even now, I know my husband and I would never go back. We have four young kids and are exhausted at the end of most days. The chances for all the stars to align for us to be sexually intimate are rare enough as it is without more days blocked out by the NFP calendar.”
That in and of itself is a better NFP method than any of the calendar based ones. Our version was co-sleeping, and a special needs child who wouldn’t leave the FaHmily bed for 8 years (anybody who has slept as a couple with a young child know what the H is for).