It's NFP appreciation week! I've blogged before about how charting your fertility is the best self-care you can give yourself as a woman. But this year I get to reflect on the six months of experience that Joseph and I have had with NFP in our marriage.
As Catholics, we talk a lot about the benefits about Natural Family Planning.
"It strengthens your marital communication."
"It builds a health appreciation for your body."
And all of those things are true. But one thing we don’t talk about enough when we discuss NFP, especially with engaged couples, is that NFP is a challenge. We don't do anyone justice when we paint NFP as perfection. But when we have honest, blunt, conversations about the highs and lows of NFP, we can appreciate it in its fullness.
I would be lying if I said NFP was easy. Sometimes, it can be pretty sticky. It stretches you. Okay, now I'm just being tacky.
I would also be lying if I said that Joseph and I regularly frolic through a field of flowers, holding onto each other just like those couples in the NFP ads. We don't even live near a field of flowers.
Not quite an accurate picture, USCCB.
Nor do we spend our weekends leaning on each other's shoulders, standing in front of a fertile green field with a stray bouquet of flowers floating beside us. NFP isn't a walk in the park.
But do you know what else isn't a walk in the park? Striving towards sanctity.
Christ never told us that following Him was going to be easy. In fact, He warned us that it was going to be a challenge. In John 16:33, He says, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
So how do Joseph and I navigate times of fertility and abstinence while waiting for the end of the fourth day green light? Obviously we still have a lot to learn. There are many days where I flip through the Creighton handbook, poke around various NFP Facebook groups, and send multiple texts to our Fertility Care Practitioner to figure out what combination of letters and numbers we should use to accurately chart my fertility. But in the six months of marriage that we have under our belt, I've learned that there are ways to make the time of abstinence fruitful.
Pray together - and pray for each other
If you want true intimacy in your marriage, then pray with your spouse. Pray with your spouse about discerning your family. Pray for the grace to love each other more. But also make time to pray for your spouse. Ask each other for prayer intentions. Ask about what is worrying them and then pray over them. Offer up your tasks throughout the day for their intentions.
We're going to struggle in this life. But loving each other with a crucifixion type love gives that struggle purpose and reason.
NFP is not easy. But it is easier when viewed in light of salvation. And hey, as a bonus, at the end of our lives, we probably won't have any purgatory time left thanks to the redemptive suffering opportunity NFP offers us. So there's that.
Don't be afraid to love each other
If you're avoiding pregnancy, that doesn't mean you can't show affection to your spouse. Just because you're avoiding genital contact doesn't mean you have to shun intimacy for approximately 5-7 days of each month.
"Well, dear, I want to give you a hug but I know that you're fertile and we're trying to avoid so . . . I can't."
You can be intimate without undressing. Find out each other's love languages and then love each other. Is his love language words of affirmation? Slip a note into his lunchbox. Is her love language physical touch? Give her a long hug when you walk in the door at the end of the night. A long hug doesn't have to lead to making out. Kissing doesn't have to end in sex.
Log off of social media at the end of the night and spend quality time together. Revisit the reasons why you married each other. Make her coffee in the morning. Bring home flowers for no reason. Take time to say you love each other before you fall asleep.
You don't have to avoid each other just because you're avoiding a pregnancy.
Be honest with each other
There have been plenty of nights that I've laid in bed, stared at the ceiling and said to Joseph: "NFP is really hard." It's true, sometimes NFP stands for 'Not Freaking Practical.' But if you're honest with each other, it can be easier.
Communication with each other is vital to NFP. If you, as a woman, see signs of fertility, let your husband know about it. Yes, it's frustrating to have your plans for the evening changed, but it's even more frustrating to not be on the same page with your spouse.
NFP is challenging, but approaching the challenge head on together as a team makes the challenge doable. After all, the road towards sainthood isn't supposed to be miserable. God doesn't say "Quit complaining and just suck it up." He says "Take heart! I have overcome the world." Lean on Him. Lean on each other. Be honest with each other.
Don't forget that sometimes sex starts in the kitchen
In her book, The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning, Simcha Fisher writes: "If you improve your relationship outside the bedroom, your sex life will almost always get better. Women tend to be more aware of this link, but it's just as true for men: a better sex life comes from being more unified as a couple in general. . . the quality of your sex life is often about everything else in your life besides sex. "
Sometimes, sex starts in the kitchen. It starts with unloading the dishwasher together. It starts with genuine interest when you ask each other 'how was your day, honey?'. It involves sharing hobbies and planning game nights. Connecting for meals and calls from the office just to say you love each other.
If you struggle with intimacy on a daily, social level, your intimacy in the bedroom will be reflective of that fact. Intimacy between spouses isn't something that exists in a vacuum. It's intertwined into daily life.
Love . . . Naturally.
Natural Family Planning is not just a way of deciding how many years we want between each of the littles that God blesses us with. NFP also helps build communication and prayer life between Joseph and I. It encourages conversations about responsible parenthood. It helps us see the beauty of both the procreative and the unitive aspects of sex.
Natural family planning is one of the hardest things in marriage - mostly because it involves a lot of heart checks and realizing how selfish I can be. But it also, without a doubt, is one of the best things about marriage. So let's do ourselves a favor and be honest about all of NFP and the beauty it offers our marriages.