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The Best Secret I Know

August 2, 2010

On Thursday of last week, Michelle and I got a call from a close friend of ours who helps run the pre-marital retreat weekends for the Diocese of Austin.

“I know its last minute,” he said, “and it’s okay if you say no, but would you and Michelle be willing to fill in and give a talk on Natural Family Planning on Saturday at 4:00p.m.?” After talking it over with Michelle for all of about two minutes, we decided that, no matter what, we would shift our weekend plans around to be there. There aren’t too many times that you get the chance to tell fifty engaged couples the best secret you know about marriage/sex, and we weren’t going to pass this one up.

Why We Chose to Practice Natural Family Planning
When we were going through the pre-marital process, Michelle and I committed to practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP) in our own marriage. For each of us, however, the decision came much earlier.

The idea that NFP was the “right” thing to do was ingrained in Michelle. She can’t even remember how the idea got there, just that, in her head, she has always known that it was something she’d live out in her marriage.

For me, my journey to NFP came at a time when I was away from the Catholic Church and was working as a licensed minister in a Southern Baptist Church. I was driving around Fort Worth one day, listening to a radio program called Family Life Today, and they were talking about NFP. I remember thinking, “what the heck?! Isn’t that a Catholic thing?”

The point of the program was to highlight the incredible benefits that NFP had for marriages. I went home that day and started doing research about the claims being made. In American society, we all know that 50% of marriages end in divorce. In the church, the divorce rate is still 48%. Among Catholics who attend mass together, the divorce rate is still 27%. However, among couples who practice NFP, the divorce rate is in the range of 2-4%.

When I first learned all of this, I wasn’t yet married, but something clicked in my mind. I don’t think anyone ever began their marriages (or imagined their future life) by saying, “I want to be divorced some day.” I have yet to meet an engaged couple that is looking forward to, someday, being divorced. “So,” I thought, “if I want to have a marriage that doesn’t end in divorce, then I should give my marriage every chance to succeed. If less than one in twenty NFP marriages ends in divorce, then why wouldn’t I practice it in my marriage?”

All of this talk about NFP might sound foreign to those of you who have never considered it as a viable option, or thought that those who practice it are antiquated and out of touch. But, let me tell you why, in my estimation, that NFP so greatly decreases the potential of divorce.

1) It increases communication – Communication is vital to a marital relationship. A husband and don’t have to completely agree about everything, or always be on the exact same page, but they must understand where the other is coming from. When couples stop communicating, they stop understanding why the other is acting the way that they are. Soon, they become distant with one another and passive aggressive and the relationship breaks down.

NFP makes fertility and sexuality the responsibility of both the husband and the wife. In our house, I keep the chart. This requires that, every day, Michelle and I communicate about what is going on with her body. If a couple is communicating with one another on this level, I believe there is a greater likelihood that they will communicate more deeply in other areas of their relationship.

2) Understanding – NFP not only keeps the lines of communication open between a husband and a wife, but it helps me, as a man, understand this mysterious woman I live with. The natural cycle of a woman is a complex process and sometimes it seems like there are hormones flying every which way. Tracking all of the physical effects of this process helps me understand what is going on with my wife in ways that I can’t see.

This understand helps me be a better husband by better serving the needs of my wife.

3) Intimacy – Intimacy is a natural byproduct of communication and understanding. It’s something we all long for and hope to have in our marital relationship. Psychological and spiritual intimacy leads to even greater physical intimacy with your spouse. And really, who doesn’t want that?

4) It makes sex the recommitment to marriage vows – Almost six years ago I stood in front of a church filled with family and friends and vowed to give my whole self to Michelle. I didn’t cross my fingers, or put special provisions in my vows of things that I wanted to hold back. This is what marriage is about.

When couples use contraception, they are communicating to one another, I give you all of myself but…

Either physically or chemically, they put a barrier between themselves by segregating the purposes of sex: expressing love/intimacy and procreation. This doesn’t mean that every sexual act should be aimed at having children. No one (including the Catholic Church) is preaching that. Rather, it means that couples shouldn’t hold back their fertility from one another. If there is a legitimate reason why you want to avoid pregnancy, then avoid intercourse during your time of fertility and find other ways to be intimate. There was (I hope) a time in your relationship when you had to develop intimacy without sex. I don’t think it detracts from your relationship to remember what you did then and do those things again.

But, when you come together in love, give your whole selves to one another physically, just as you promised your whole self to one another on your wedding day.

There is, of course, a whole other side to this conversation that is deep and theological. It deals with the dignity of the human person, the created purpose of man and woman and the relationship represented in the sacrament of marriage. I fully affirm the church’s teaching in that regard and hope to write more on it in the future.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Marie permalink
    September 1, 2010 8:50 am

    Excellent post! Thanks for sharing. I saw your comment on the Faith and Family blog. It’s so refreshing to see good Catholic men leaving comments on that site amongst all the women.

    • Chris permalink*
      September 1, 2010 10:51 pm

      Thanks Marie! I appreciate you stopping by and hope you’ll come back and check out This Pilgrim’s Progress again soon!

      -Chris

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