Natural family planning has the potential to bring out either our best or our worst traits as people and as spouses. There’s nothing quite like sacrificing our own physical desires (think along the lines of dieting or giving up coffee) to cause even the most selfless among us to think about ourselves more than usual. If we do not have the right frame of mind when doing these things, it is extremely easy to turn our sacrifice (which should be a good thing) into someone else’s torment. NFP is certainly no exception to that. In fact, because the marital act is so important in marriage, I’d say that it has the potential to bring out our selfish side even more than dieting or giving up a caffeine addiction can.
When we fail to reign in our selfish desires for the benefit of sanctifying our souls, there are pitfalls that husbands and wives (or both) can fall into. Here are 3 examples of those pitfalls and tips for how to avoid them.
3 Pitfalls To Avoid While Practicing Natural Family Planning
- The Gatekeeper –The gatekeeper can occur in two primary ways. It occurs when the husband does not involve himself with NFP and instead leaves all the work to the wife. When there is no cooperation between both parties in the marriage, it can very quickly begin to feel like all of the responsibility for NFP is placed squarely on the shoulders of the wife. When the only type of communication that occurs between the couple in regards to NFP is whether the “gates” are open or closed, the wife inherently becomes the gatekeeper to the couple’s sex life. This can become a difficult role to fill because it can make it seem like periods of abstinence are her fault.
The flip side of this pitfall occurs when the wife is too controlling with NFP and does not communicate with her husband about her cycle. Wives can intentionally leave their husbands in the dark about NFP and take advantage of his lack of knowledge to manipulate their sex life to her preference and timing.
Even though the difference between the gatekeeper mentality and the healthy role of husbands and wives using NFP looks different for each couple, the main tip to avoid the gatekeeper pitfall is to communicate. Husbands, take the time to be knowledgeable about your wives’ bodies. Understand how they work and how your chosen method of NFP works. Communicate with your wives about the ways in which she would like you to be involved with the practical aspects of NFP and never fall into the trap of blaming her for periods of abstinence. Wives, bring your husbands into the fold. Communicate with them and do not try to control or manipulate them or your sex life. Understand that the marital act is something that both spouses should have a say in and that a wife should always be open and honest with her husband. Simple and basic communication surrounding NFP can certainly help couples become more ordered to the partnership they should have.
- The Avoider – this pitfall is extremely easy to fall into. The natural tendency for some couples during periods of abstinence is to gravitate more towards other areas of interest, rather than each other. This is certainly an effective strategy for getting through periods of abstinence. It can be extremely difficult to find chaste intimacy with your spouse when you find yourself extra in tune to them and extra attracted to them because of the incredibly powerful hormones of ovulation. However, it can be a dangerous pitfall if you don’t temper that avoidance with some form of intimacy.
Of course we all know that we can’t just ignore our spouses for a length of time and expect to remain intimate with them. That is just simply not how it works. Now taking into consideration that the time of abstaining can be quite long some cycles, ignoring or avoiding your spouse for that entire time is just not a good idea – no matter how well intended it is. When we get used to avoiding our spouses during the pressures and reality of the fertile period, it can be difficult to stop avoiding the pressures and realities of marriage in general. The fact is, you have to learn to deal with your spouse in a healthy and intimate way during the difficult times in your marriage, no matter how difficult the struggle may be.
In order to avoid this pitfall, couples need to be creative. They need to find ways in which to maintain intimacy when choosing to abstain from physical intimacy. The best tip for achieving this would clearly be increasing spiritual intimacy. Husbands should always be leading their families in daily prayer but perhaps picking some extra time to pray each day while abstaining would be a helpful way to maintain (and even grow) intimacy while abstaining. Of course, there are many ways in which couples can find some form of intimacy during periods of abstinence: watching a movie together while cuddling (or not), play a game, have a glass of wine and chat face to face…the possibilities are endless. You just have to be creative.
- The Narcissist – as with all sacrifices that we make in our lives, it is all too easy to focus solely on ourselves as a result. Clearly, this is exactly the opposite of the point of a sacrifice but it is a hard thing not to do. Our broken natures make us think primarily of ourselves and living in this modern culture exacerbates the issue to a profound degree. If we pay much attention to the culture at all, we are told that we should always reign supreme in our own lives – all others come after.
This is an easy attitude to develop while using NFP. Rather than embracing our struggle and supporting the struggles of our spouse, a lot of husbands and wives (or many times, both) turn the focus solely on themselves. When we do this, we are being narcissistic and selfish and preventing the sanctification that God is calling us to. Choosing not to use contraception and rather to use NFP in our marriages is a call to selflessness, not selfishness. The sacrifices required should be guiding us toward becoming more Christ like. And Christ was the most selfless person that has ever walked this earth! So if we find that we are acting in a selfish manner, we know we are headed in the wrong direction. Christ was selfless enough to die for us, so we must be willing to die to ourselves (at least a little bit) for the sanctification of our souls and the souls of our spouse.
So what do we do to avoid this pitfall? Look to the lives of the saints. Pick up any book about the life of the saints and you will find so many examples of how to become more selfless. The saints were incredibly amazing people who, in spite of their humanness, were able to keep growing closer to Christ and keep growing more and more like Him. If becoming more like Jesus is our goal in life (which it really should be), look no further than the saints for prime examples of how to live one’s life. Two of the most obvious and helpful saints to begin emulating in the area of marriage would clearly be St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary. So begin with them and continue to dive into the wonderful lives of the saints and, just like Mary, they will all point you closer to Him.
Clearly, NFP can be a challenging thing to take on in marriage and marriage is challenging enough. So couples, pour yourselves a glass of wine, pray a rosary together, read a chapter or two of a great saint book together, and talk to each other. Grow closer to each other because of the mutual sacrifice made while using NFP and not in spite of it. And be sure that as you grow closer to each other, you are also growing closer to Jesus, for He is the One that will make your sacrifice not only bearable, but sweet.
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