Natural Family Planning (NFP) is a beautiful and effective way for married couples to remain open to life while also following Church teaching against contraception. For many couples, NFP can be a way for them to grow closer to each other and as a couple grow closer to God. The sanctification and willingness to work in cooperation with God helps so many couples to know and understand God and their spouses on a more intimate level.
If you are one of those couples who use NFP and have experienced this beautiful reality manifest itself in your marriage, you understand and appreciate everything being said. But what if you are not one of those couples? What if, instead, you are one of the couples who feel like NFP is an extreme burden on your marriage?
Some couples struggle to follow the Church’s teaching on contraception because, try as they might, they do not see any of the fruits so often spoken of in regards to NFP. You may be one of those couples. You may be shaking your head as you read this, not understanding how these claims can be made, and perhaps even doubting their sincerity. Trust me when I say, you are not alone. There are many couples out there who feel exactly the same.
Now, it’s important to remember that even if you abhor NFP and even if it doesn’t manifest in a positive way in your marriage, that you are still being sanctified by it. God sees your sacrifice and appreciates it. In fact, your sacrifice by continuing to follow His Church’s teaching on contraception means even more to Him because of your struggle.
But even knowing this does not always make it easier to actually embrace NFP. And it definitely does not make it easier to practice in your marriage. Now, if you are a couple who struggles in this way, you have surely read time and time again, suggestions on how to grow closer to your spouse while practicing NFP. These suggestions are usually helpful…to a point. Many of the suggestions include things like snuggling, playing a game or watching a movie together, and finding intimacy during periods of abstinence. While you may find these suggestions helpful, you might also be shaking your head about these tips too – finding them as unlikely to bring about positive change in this area of your marriage as NFP has been.
If that is the case for you, here is a suggestion of something to try that may be a little different than what you have tried before. St. Teresa of Avila writes in her book, The Way of Perfection, a suggestion when struggling to overcome sin or temptation:
Though St. Teresa of Avila wrote The Way of Perfection to the sisters of the convent in which she was prioress at the time, the quote can be so aptly applied to the use of NFP in marriage. Most of what we try to do to make times of abstinence (aka: times of temptation) easier as a couple, is to spend time with our spouses in ways that we enjoy. But St. Teresa suggests that to do so is actually counterproductive to overcoming the temptation. She suggests elsewhere in the book that the indulgence involved in the enjoyment actually makes the temptation stronger…especially over time:
“For this body of ours has one fault: the more you indulge it, the more things it discovers to be essential to it. It is extraordinary how it likes being indulged; and, if there is any reasonable pretext for indulgence, however little necessity for it there may be, the poor soul is taken in and prevented from making progress.”– St. Teresa of Avila
So, according to St. Teresa, the more we indulge ourselves, the more we will want to indulge ourselves. And over time, this desire to indulge makes it more and more difficult to overcome the temptations we face. Perhaps, when we use NFP, which is rife with temptations for most couples, and we use indulgence as a way to avoid those temptations, we are actually making it more difficult to find the fruits promised with the use of NFP.
Even though spending time doing something fun with your spouse is a great thing to do, most things we choose to do involve indulgence to some degree. And as you indulge in enjoyable food, drink, and entertainment, it becomes all too easy to continue in that indulgent behavior which in turn makes NFP more difficult.
So, maybe it’s time to find something you dislike to do and do it together to focus on growing in virtue during times of abstinence.
Perhaps instead of popping a bag of popcorn and watching a movie together during times of abstinence – spend that time cleaning the bathroom.
Rather than going out to eat together – try doing dishes together.
Instead of enjoying a bottle of wine together – try working on a project around the house that has been put on the back burner.
Even though it seems counterintuitive in a significant way, when we are struggling with the sacrifice of NFP adding additional sacrifice during times of temptation will actually help us with the initial sacrifice. St. Teresa’s wisdom may be just what some of us need to fully embrace NFP in our marriage, to see the fruits of NFP in our marriage, and to grow closer to our spouse and to God because of NFP and not merely in spite of it.