I Hate NFP (But Need it Anyway)

hw7Have you ever noticed how NFP (Natural Family Planning for the uninitiated) is marketed? It’s sold with glossy photos of couples holding hands and dancing in flower-filled meadows, their faces plastered with blissful grins.

It will make you so much more intimate! It will change your life! You’ll never be so in love as when you chart your spouse’s cycles! So they said.

Well the truth is, NFP stinks.

And while hate may be too strong a word, NFP is anything but blissful. It’s abstinence. In marriage! To be perfectly real and honest, NFP has not lead to blissful meadow-dancing, but rather to hurt feelings, grumpiness, pouting, and temper tantrums (Don’t worry, I’ve gone to confession.).

But that said, it is probably the best thing for me, and I’ll tell you why.

Hidden Love…

I need NFP because it reveals a hidden love affair competing for the love I have for my wife. It’s called self-love.

Put another way, I hate NFP because there is still so much selfishness and immaturity in my heart, and marital abstinence brings it to the surface in all its ugliness.

When I was first preparing for marriage, I had read countless marriage books and articles on how to be a great husband. “I’m going to be the best husband ever,” I thought smugly. “I’ve got this down.”  And then I got married. In no time at all, that marriage advice that once seemed so clear and simple evaporated. I quickly realized I was nothing more than a selfish jerk. Impatient, rude, demanding, and insensitive. Boy did I have to get over myself fast.

The truth is, though, loving my wife has gotten easier the longer I’ve been married. What used to be a struggle has become natural. There are times when I really think that I am doing well and growing—and perhaps, by God’s grace, I am. But then NFP rears its ugly head and reveals just how much self-love is still lurking in the dark recess of my soul. And that selfishness has to be put to death.

Marriage is a Cross

You see, society sells us a lie. It tells us that marriage is about self-fulfillment, about happily ever after, about using others to create your own happiness. It’s about one and a half kids in an 8,000 square foot McMansion, with a couple of SUVs in the driveway. Oh, and the greatest good in marriage is sex; unlimited contraceptive, child-preventing sex. If your spouse isn’t meeting your “needs,” you are free to move on and look elsewhere for someone who does.

But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Marriage isn’t about you. It’s about losing yourself, about putting the old man to death. It’s about giving yourself away. It’s about loving your wife in the same way Christ loved his bride, the Church—all the way to the cross.

Have you ever noticed that every sacrament contains an image of death? We are immersed into the death of Christ in Baptism. Priests lay face down on the ground when they receive Holy Orders. The Eucharist is the passion of Christ made present. In confession we enter a box that could be considered a coffin. In every sacrament, we must die to ourselves in order to receive the grace and life we so desperately need.

In case you’ve forgotten, marriage too is a sacrament—and a happy, fruitful, and faithful marriage will always involve death to self. There’s a spiritual law that goes like this: The harder we cling to our own happiness and fulfillment, the less we find of it, but the more we die to ourselves and live for others, the more joy we find.

In a very real sense, marriage is a martyrdom, a very real kind of death—but a death that gives life.

So What About NFP?

What’s the point? NFP is hard and we are prone to hate it because we often enter marriage thinking about our rights, our needs, and our wants. In other words, we so often want to take instead of to give, because giving always hurts.

The truth is, though, we desperately need NFP and the self-denial it represents. Without it, all that selfishness and immaturity and greediness would still be there, buried under layers of self-deception. It would manifest itself subtly, or not so subtly, in many other aspects of marriage, wounding the intimate bond between husband and wife. Yes, it would still be there, and it would still do harm.

Marriage is a sacrament because God wants to convert our hearts. Marriage isn’t about two-incomes, an oversized house, and overpriced vehicles. It won’t always look like the American dream, which all too often is more of a nightmare. Marriage according to God’s plan is hard and sometimes painful because marriage is meant to be a school of genuine love, and genuine love always looks like the cross.

Don’t get me wrong, a Catholic marriage well lived is full of joy. I mean it. Yet that abundant joy is always the byproduct and not the prime product. It flows from self-forgetful, self-emptying love, never from selfishness or self-seeking. We must surrender ourselves in order to find the happiness we seek.

So do I like NFP? Nope. Sometimes I downright hate it. But maybe it can help me grow.

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113 Responses to “I Hate NFP (But Need it Anyway)”

  1. Mr. G. Well-written article! Thank you. It reminds me of why I read your blogs and frequently visit this website for some authentic Catholic works.

  2. You totally got me! I was so angry with the opening lines that I had to click on the article to see what it said. Beautifully put. 😀

  3. Excellent, raw, introspective, insightful article! Yes, NFP is challenging — and with good reason as you point out. However, Good News! We don’t any of us “need” NFP! We do need to trust God. Wild, radical openness to life is what we are called to. NFP is a moral option for serious reasons that a couple discerns warrants not having more children. The selfishness that NFP helps counter through abstinence, is perhaps actually really hiding in choosing not to have children for reasons of convenience. May God startle you with joy!

    • Sam Guzman Reply

      True, no one “needs” NFP in a strict sense. If you substitute NFP with the word “self denial” you’ll get closer to my meaning.

      And yes, NFP can be used for selfish reasons. Really, anything can be used for selfish reasons. Self love is just that subtle. That said, it is very much an issue that couples need to discern in accordance with Church teaching. We must be careful not judge a couple’s obedience based on their family size. A couple with three children may be more devout than a couple with thirteen.

      Women can often have health problems that make childbirth dangerous or unwise. Some families with poor medical coverage could be devastated financially by paying for another birth out of pocket. In other cases, the mental and physical strain of child after child in close succession can push a mother into serious Post Partum Depression. And I will say that it is always easier for a man, who does not have to carry a child for 9 months and give birth to speak about openness to life. A wise husband will listen to his wife when she says that she needs more space for a legitimate reason.

      The point is, what constitutes a “grave” reason may vary from family to family. God knows our circumstances and judges our hearts. Generosity and sacrifice should always be our rule when it comes to having children (We have three children three and under). But when it comes to the choices of others, Romans 14:4 should be our guide.

      • Well said, Sam. Yes, the many and various serious challenges facing families are often hidden and deeply personal, and only God can judge the choices we make. As disciples, we are called to share the journey, ask hard questions of each other, and strive to lovingly hold each other accountable, most especially within the intimacy of husband and wife as One Flesh. May God continue to startle you with joy!

      • Margarett RBC Zavodny Reply

        Thank you for saying this! I’m so tired of hearing that using NFP shows a lack of trust in God. God gave us intellect and will, expecting us to use them. I trust in NFP as a gift of Christ and his Church.

    • Kathie Marshall Reply

      I was thinking the same thing. We have 12 children. I had my last at 47. Why abstain? the freedom of love is so much better. If we can do it, so can you. (and just so you know I realize some people use NFP for serious reasons, your final sentence “I need NFP and so do you,” demonstrated that you think NFP is something every marriage will need. No, actually, some never even get close. We didn’t. We tried for a minute here or there, but ultimately though another child was worth skipping NFP for. (;

      • I understand your position. My wife is one of twelve so I’m very familiar with families like yours ; ) One of my soft objections to this type of large family is that you’ll be in your mid 60’s when they graduate HIGH SCHOOL, lol.. you may not even be alive when they get married let a lone have your grandchildren. How fair is that or fun is that? My wife’s youngest sibling is a sophomore in high school and her parents are in their mid/late 50’s, and they’re pretty much checked out on parenting and are more like grandparents to him who just buy him stuff. And he’s younger than his own nephews, lol..

  4. I very much enjoyed your article. I agree with everything you said as long as you replace “NFP” with “Marital Abstinence” or “Chastity in Marriage”.
    Today I meet so many people for whom NFP is selfishness. NFP as intended by the Church for extreme circumstances is exactly what you describe but many use it as a way to enjoy the pleasures of the marital act with a greatly diminished risk of conceiving. This is ultimately a self-seeking act. I applaud you because this is not what you are describing but I would have enjoyed a different although less flashy title.

    • Alp/a7+jc8OONNM3NgxsH2SHGbS3VCSU0EujcSNU4YI= Reply

      I’m really not sure how you became the one who is capable of judging other couples’ intentions while abstaining through NFP. The church has not deemed fit to give a list of reasons, but rather language that offers insight and guidelines for reflection that permit a couple to prayerfully and prudentially decide based on their own experiences. If the church has deemed this to be sufficient, I am not sure where the judgment of Josh also became a prerequisite for a couples’ prayerful use of NFP. And in case you think that I am making the argument against judgment of the behavior of others in general, I would emphasize that I never said that. Rather, I said that in cases where the church has permitted personal and individual discernment and prudential consideration, they are signaling that the knowledge of particular circumstances that prudence requires is something needed to make an appropriate decision. I would suggest you do not have that kind of knowledge of particulars for more marriages than the one you yourself may be involved in. All best

      • The Church actually has given reasons for when NFP can be used. Pope Pius XII have us the four reasons of medical, eugenic, economic, or other social reasons. Pope Paul VI repeated those reasons as Physical, economic, psychological, social (Humanae Vitae). A simplified list can be condensed into physical, economic, and social reasons.

        There may be a list of situations or conditions that fall under these categories, which the individual can prudentially decide on, but these categories are far more specific than “guidelines for reflection” or “language that offers insight.” It shouldn’t be that complicated to decide whether you should use NFP or not, you look at your situation and if matches any of these “serious reasons” then you can use NFP. If not then morally you shouldn’t be using it. On the face of it, it really isn’t that complicated.

    • Hi Josh!
      Your comment struck me because I would have said exactly the same thing up until a couple months ago. At that time, I was thinking about why selfish NFP is wrong. (And I agree that NFP used without due reason is wrong because it is selfish. But why is it wrong? . . .)

      Is it wrong because of the intercourse the couple IS having, or because of the intercourse they are NOT having? I had always thought: of course, because of the intercourse they are having. They’re “getting away with it” getting all this pleasure while selfishly avoiding children. But then I realized that the Church, in allowing infertile (though not impotent) couples to marry, seems pretty content to let couples perform and enjoy the marital act, as long as they don’t exclude life from those acts with contraception. Since (all other things being equal) the Church is okay with sex when it doesn’t contracept, I realized that selfish NFP is not wrong because of sex during infertile times, since that is fine as far as it goes. Rather, selfish NFP is wrong because of the sex they are NOT having! In other words, they are unjustified in abstaining from sex in those times. They are unjustified in avoiding sex during those fertile times. Using the infertile times has never been a problem: it’s the avoidance of fertile times without good reason that is the problem.

      Anywho, hope that this provides some useful points of thought.
      God Bless,
      Matt

      • There is also a theological problem with condemning not having sex. Traditional Catholic theology has praised continence, and even married couples could agree to abstain from sex. There were not a positive obligation to procreate in marriage, as long as both spouses accepted abstinence. Duty to procreate has become relevant only recently, as periodic abstinence became a reliable way to avoid procreation even indefinitely.

      • Or maybe “selfish” NFP is wrong not because of NFP, but because selfish NFP is simply “selfish.” Any intrinsically neutral of good act can be done for selfish reasons. Alms giving can be done to be seen and admired by others. The Pharisees fasted and let everyone know. Maybe some having 13 kids are having that many out of selfish reasons. Look at me, how holy I am. Maybe the mom wants an excuse for not getting things done or maybe the dad wants the tax credit. The point is, any selfish act is wrong because it is by definition selfish.

        • Hi Eze,

          I hope I’m right in assuming that your comment responds to my comment, and not to Juho’s. If that is true, read on . . .

          I totally agree with your point, Eze, that selfish acts are wrong because they are selfish. My question goes a little bit more specific, though, I think. It might be put: where does the selfishness “show up.” Take this (simplified and extreme) example: someone decides to diet because he is vain and wants a drop dead gorgeous beach bod. His vanity motivates his dieting. So his dieting, inasmuch as it is motivated by his vanity, is bad. Okay. We can say, the intrinsically neutral act of dieting is being done for vanity, and this makes it bad.

          But we can then ask, where does the vanity “show up”? In other words, where does the vanity color his action? And I would say it shows up in the part of the project of dieting that makes dieting what it is, viz., the abstaining from food.

          In a similar way, “selfish” NFP is wrong, as you say, because it is selfish. The neutral act is made bad by the selfish motivation. My question is where does that selfishness color the action? The selfishness colors the action or project of NFP in the abstention from intercourse. It is the unjustified abstention from intercourse that instantiates the selfishness that makes selfish NFP wrong.

          So that was my point above.

  5. I don’t consider NFP to be moral. The Church teaching regarding it is only semi-binding and non infallible, but it does teach clearly that it can only be used in cases of serious necessity.

    I’m not saying that you’re necessarily to blame, but it sounds a little like your understanding of NFP might not be accurate to what PS JPII really taught. Unfortunately, like many things in our time care isn’t always taken to teach it accurately to the faithful.

    (In case any thing I said be confusing to anyone reading)

    -What do I mean by semi-binding and non infallible?

    Pope St John Paul II taught that periodic abstinence during pregnancy cycles could be moral in certain circumstances. Though, he didn’t teach this Ex Cathedra nor intended to but only as something from his own judgement. When a Pope does this it is called “Merely Authentic Magisterial Teaching” the faithful are bound to take it seriously intellectually and to assent to it providing it doesn’t teach something immoral or lead somebody to sin.

    • Matt Dawson Reply

      Semi binding? The church and the us bishops, have declared this to be a moral approach for families. Can you cite where this practice is declared to be semi binding and immoral? This strikes me as a, “i know more than the church” statement.

      Great article.

      • I’m sorry to have to link to a Wiki article but you can see what I mean maybe a little easier with the table under the “levels” category.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magisterium

        As I mentioned in my last post, it isn’t a topic that has been infallibility defined. But because it is taught by an authoritive teacher (in this case the Pope and your countries Bishops) it is to be taken seriously and treated with reverence. It is even to be assumed to be correct and given assent, unless it teaches something immoral or leads somebody to sin. Being non-infallible it isn’t guaranteed to be free from error and we aren’t bound to it in the same way. It’s possible to be “uncourteous” in disagreeing with merely authentic teachings but it’s impossible to be a “heretic”.

        I don’t consider it moral. I have given it a good deal of thought, I’ve read the documents, I’ve asked others, I’ve even jumped headlong into arguments to try to “test” the point but up to this point I (genuinely) haven’t been able to think of, nor been given some reason or even happened upon one that can solidly defend it’s morality. Right now I am absolutely certain that the method of “partial abstinence during cycles” is morally wrong. I’m not one to be contrary for the sake of it, if I would be given some information or taught some distinction that I’m missing up to now I would admit I got it wrong and change my mind, that’s not an issue at all. Until that happens though, I’m at liberty to say it is wrong.

    • Sam Guzman Reply

      Darran, it was Paul VI that issued Humanae Vitae, which specified natural child spacing as licit in serious circumstances, not John Paul II. John Paul II, of course, reiterated this teaching.

    • You don’t consider NFP to be moral? Do you consider it to be immoral? The Church has been very clear that NFP is moral. Read your Catechism.

    • Sex is powerful stuff. God designed it that way purposely, to spiritually and physically unite us to our spouse. But we are guaranteed to get it wrong in some manner if we don’t follow the teachings of the Church. Whether it’s contraception, fornication, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, etc… So, when you say NFP is wrong (when 4 popes and the Catechism say otherwise), you are essentially becoming your own magisterium. Sorry buddy, but you’re going to get it wrong. Why not reevaluate other Church teaching while your at it?

    • Darran,

      I practice NFP in my marriage. I’m not sure if you know what it actually is. It is a way to track a woman’s fertility for the purpose of either postponing or achieving pregnancy. What is immoral is to use contraceptives. It turns a beautiful act into a selfish one and disallows God to create new life out of that union. NFP is moral when properly used to avoid pregnancy under severe circumstances. NFP is immoral when it is used as a contraceptive to postpone pregnancy without sever circumstances or to prevent it altogether. That being said, there is nothing immoral about tracking a woman’s fertility even if you are not postponing. It is also a really great aid to achieving pregnancy. So it is not necessarily NFP that is immoral or moral; rather it is a contraceptive approach to marriage that is immoral and an open to life approach that is moral.

      • Ann Gundlach Reply

        NFP is a combination of fertility awareness (knowledge), which is morally neutral, and responsible parenthood, which involves using the fertility awareness knowledge to make virtuous decisions about your behavior. Using fertility awareness knowledge and choosing to abstain, whether you have sufficiently serious reasons or not, can never be contraceptive. The Church condemns contraception because it involves an action (i.e., taking a pill, wearing a condom, withdrawing, etc.) that changes the meaning of God’s design for marital love. Contraception alters God’s meaning of sex. An NFP couple never alters the meaning of their sexual acts. Each and every time they come together they are able to give each other a complete gift of self, in accord with the way God designed them.

        Using fertility awareness knowledge and choosing to abstain for selfish reasons IS wrong, but it is not the sin of contraception and should not be labeled with that term because it confuses the matter. Yes, couples fail in the virtue of generosity all the time, not just in the matter of how many children to have but in countless other ways within marriage. Being selfish in terms of openness to life can rise to the level of serious sin in some cases, but those NFP couples still are not contracepting. Sorry, but I’ve always hated to hear NFPers maligned as having a contraceptive mentality, when what should be warned about is selfishness and lack of generosity. None of their actions are twisting the meaning of the marital act.

  6. So the photos of happy couples promoting NFP are actually accurate. 🙂 It’s like advertising for a fitness center…they show the finished product, too (i.e., healthy-looking people) and not just images of the work it takes to get there (i.e., pain, sweating, even injury sometimes). Why would NFP groups show unhappy, frustrated couples to promote the notion of following Christ on his teachings about marital love?

        • Congratulations on your beautiful family, Greg! You are right that burn out may not be a serious enough reason. However, how does your response address anything I said? Sounds like you are still missing that the single data point of 3 children 3 and under has a lot of possible serious circumstances (including burnout, depending on the situation, as Sara points out).

          • True it could be anything (financial, medical, etc) but man having 3 under 3 is incredibly difficult and it makes me think of burn out even that is not the particular issue here.

    • I hope that is said in facetiousness, given that burnout, compounded by a difficult pregnancy could lead to serious issues of mental health. At the very least, it is certainly potentially grave in the short term.

      • Well said, Sara. One challenge with “burden” (aka burnout) is that fear of one type or another contributes greatly to the stress, which then causes “mental health” issues. At the root of this type of fear is a singular fear: that the serpent was right, at which point our burden is the result of not trusting God, but instead trusting Satan. Shine the light of Christ on the sin, heal the fear, strengthen the will to choose and trust Jesus our Christ. It is a challenge to discern as a family, without connecting with a knowledgable priest or deacon and other strident Catholics who understand Sacramental Marriage. This is the gift of community — sharing the journey in love and faith. May God startle you with joy!

        • So women with “post-partum depression,” anxiety or other “mental health” issues are likely trusting satan and simply fearful of Gods plan for them. … Just trust in God, never deny your husband, will yourself to stop being afraid and all your “mental health” issues will go away!

          • I understand how you might see what I wrote and think that, but no, Laura. There are many more options than you seem to realize. There are very real and challenging medical issues with brain and body chemistry. The key is understanding that Satan attacks through all means possible, and the one thing we have control over is the choices we make. Do we fundamentally trust God or Satan in the choices we make? Get at the root of that and many “mental illnesses” (in men and women) are far less impactful. May God startle you with joy!

          • Let me try to address this a different way. Your response, Laura, which I presume is sardonic, implies a false dichotomy and a position that doesn’t flow from what I am trying to say. Christ is the way! To the extent we faithful men and women choose humble obedience to Jesus our Christ in each choice they make, Christ’s light shines into every dark corner and leaves Satan no place to hide, thus making our burden light and our yoke easy.

  7. If my wife were to get pregnant again, her life would be endangered. Thus, total abstinence for us. I suppose when she hits menopause, it could be safe, but that won’t likely be for a decade or more. It’s a cross, yes. But we must trust in God. I will say that, just as it’s easier to give up cigarettes completely than to limit yourself to one a day, total abstinence has its advantages. And, in fact, when we were between kids, we simply abstained completely until we were ready again.

      • Hi Darran,

        (I wrote a similar reply above to Josh, but it seems pertinent here, too).

        Your comment struck me because I would have said exactly the same thing up until a couple months ago. At that time, I was thinking about why selfish NFP is wrong. (And I agree that NFP used without due reason is wrong because it is selfish. But why is it wrong? . . .)

        Is it wrong because of the intercourse the couple IS having, or because of the intercourse they are NOT having? I had always thought: of course, because of the intercourse they are having. They’re “getting away with it” getting all this pleasure while selfishly avoiding children. But then I realized that the Church, in allowing infertile (though not impotent) couples to marry, seems pretty content to let couples perform and enjoy the marital act, as long as they don’t exclude life from those acts with contraception. [Do you agree with this? It seems pretty clear in canon law, but perhaps you would qualify somehow?] Since (all other things being equal) the Church is okay with sex when it doesn’t contracept, I realized that selfish NFP is not wrong because of sex during infertile times, since that is fine as far as it goes. Rather, selfish NFP is wrong because of the sex they are NOT having! In other words, they are unjustified in abstaining from sex in those times. They are unjustified in avoiding sex during those fertile times. Using the infertile times has never been a problem: it’s the avoidance of fertile times without good reason that is the problem.

        Anywho, hope that this provides some useful points for thought.
        God Bless,
        Matt

        • Steven Surrency Reply

          This seems consistent eight Catholic teaching to me. Abstinence in marriage is what must be justified. It can be justified for serious reason, but it is the abnormal state that need justification. The normal state of marriage is to have sex. It used to be referred to as a marital duty.

          • Marital duty, or correspondingly marital right, means an obligation, subject to conditions, that a spouse has to accept having sex if the other spouse asks for it. Exercising that right is up to the spouses and is not essential in marriage. In fact, continence was traditionally recommended: “I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.” (1 Cor 7:29)

    • I was told my life would be endangered for each pregnancy after my 4th child, I went on to have 4 more and child number 7, my 6th c-section was a total miracle and cure of my body after many people praying for me. Not to belittle that your wife’s life would be endangered, just make sure you get more opinions. Total abstinence seems so drastic.
      .

  8. I first would like to say that this article is very well put together and true to the trenches of it all. Thank you also for the shout out to Pope Paul VI, everyone should at least skim Humanae Vitae as it is very rich in exhortation for our time.

    I nearly died while delivering my first daughter. We were all surprised by my dangerous hemorrhage and subsequent surgery. It took a very long time for me to let go of the fear that another child could mean my life. After prayerful discernment and discussion with my doctor, we felt comfortable to be open once again and uneventfully had 2 more girls.

    Now began a long period of being either unable to get pregnant or unable to maintain a pregnancy, eBen wit thw amazing knowledg that NFP had given me about my own health (perhaps a good all its own) . As you may suppose, our closest friends and family knew this, but many did not. I had great difficulty and sadness with this, but I won’t be lying when I say that one personal issue was my worry of judgement such as has been stated here. “Oh, they said they are trusting God for their family…but only 3?” Or, “I bet they are using nfp improperly, like contraception, or, are really hypocrites and she is on the pill…?” All in my head? Yes, but possible, I thought.

    Finally, when we had begun to discern that God had closed that door, we became pregnant once again. Though the gap was large, we were thrilled. Within that pregnancy, I was diagnosed with both a potentially dangerous blood issue and gall bladder problems, causing the removal of said gall bladder immediately before the 3rd trimester. It was successful, but perhaps due to the stress, our child was born 2 months prematurely and we began our family life with her in the NICU.

    We have certainly been blessed with our children, but within all of these things have been times and seasons that marital abstinence has been our prayerfully discerned choice. For most of us truly trying to live the teachings of the Church, it is difficult enough without people that feel they can make assumptions from the outside. Of course, if you are in a close relationship to someone and can share the beauty of trusting God in every aspect of a life and a marriage, I hope you will…kindly. Many lifelong Catholics don’t fully believe it. But please, don’t spurt out things that make it more difficult…especially for those of us that have studied and prayed and learned and are trying to be on the right path. Statements that it is immoral or selfish are not helpful and I would say, untrue. Could it be selfish? Certainly, we are human. But, without direct knowledge of a couple’s reasons that is not a judgement you could make.

  9. Best lines in the article:
    “Marriage isn’t about you. It’s about losing yourself, about putting the old man to death. It’s about giving yourself away. It’s about loving your wife in the same way Christ loved his bride, the Church—all the way to the cross.”

    Beautiful! Thanks!

  10. Another great article, Sam.

    Coming, perhaps, from the opposite end of the spectrum, my wife and I struggled with an inability to conceive for our first 7 years of marriage. NFP (the Creighton system, specifically) helped us to target the several fertile days each cycle, and it worked twice. We lost our first child, Beatrice, in utero. But our second, Joseph, is now 5. My wife and I are convinced that we did in fact *need NFP*, but for different reasons than described in this article.

    Early on, abstinence was more like a game or light comedy than a burden, and eventually my minor complaint was the mechanical nature of introducing science into what should be more like poetry. All the same, knowledge of the biological reality was a good thing. The thing I finally latched onto with NFP and JPII’s Theology of the Body is that marriage is primarily concerned with cultivating the virtue of chastity. By this I mean the couple tries to find as many ways to truly love the beloved as is possible. That is chastity. It is meant to be a liberating virtue instead of a restricting one.

    I can’t recall the last time abstinence was an issue. I’m more bothered by the fact that I simply can’t make my wife happy as often as I’d like, or that my son is too darn fast to keep up with in all things. There are much more important, or more epic sins with which Man should be doing battle–like pride. Dealing with our age’s inward-oriented selfishness, epitomized by lust, is what the youth should spend adolescence overcoming.

  11. The problem with NFP isn’t NFP. The problem with NFP is that people who are in love with it won’t shut up about it. Over and over and over again. It’s so weird to see people blog about their sex lives when you don’t even know the color of their car or if they liked the newest Star Wars movie.

    There is a sort of war on intimacy going on in the Catholic Church today, and it involves the Christopher West crowd as well as some of the more enthusiastic (I’m not including the blogger here) advocates of NFP. Bishop Sheen said that the more a couple grows in intimacy, the less than can imagine ever discussing it with anyone.

    Listen people. If you need to use NFP, great. But you really don’t need to tell everyone, or slap your name on the internet or Catholic message board telling everyone that you use it. What do you really gain from whether or not other people know the precise scheduling of your sexual activity?

    • Sam Guzman Reply

      Brian, I hear you. There is indeed a war on intimacy and modesty (in the true sense of the word). I feel it too and agree there are some things that should not be talked about publicly. And yes, some people do talk about NFP a little too much.

      On the other hand, we live in a pornified, sex-saturated culture. I believe we really have to talk about these things, albeit with discretion, in order to present a positive view of human sexuality and God’s plan for it. Ignoring it isn’t going to help anyone. Perhaps in Sheen’s day there wasn’t a need to bring some of these things into the open. But in our day and age, when nearly every TV show, movie, or pop song presents a distorted view of human sexuality, when porn is the most popular form of web content, and when celebrities are sharing selfies that leave nothing to the imagination, we need to present what is good and right about marriage, family life, and God’s plan for sex, even if it means sharing a little more than we would like.

      To be perfectly honest, it was uncomfortable for me to share some of these things, but I did it simply because I believe others can be helped when we are vulnerable and real about our experiences, including our struggles.

      • And, really, while some may be sharing information that is inappropriate, who do we leave it to? The majority of Catholics of child bearing age that contracept, tubal ligate, and vasectomy their way to family size? Maybe we burrow in with many of the folks that I know that use a form of nfp that are granola protestants or not of any faith?

      • No Sam, you don’t need to talk about it. If TV shows, movies, and pop songs present a distorted view of human sexuality, then you need to cut them out of your life not keep talking about them. I’m sick and tired of hearing about “theology of the body” and “God’s plan for your sex life.” It’s all halfhearted and fake, we need to recover not just our Catholic tradition but the whole culture that went along with that. We only have a problem with these things in the Church because people refuse to leave the world behind and truly work on being holy. I see no reason why a person mature in their faith, who prays regularly, can’t bring these matters to the confessional when and if they were to come up.

  12. Good news for everyone hating NFP because it brings out the ugliest part of us: in time, if you keep dealing with the ugly parts, uprooting weed by weed, NFP does become beautiful!! It really is like Mother Theresa said,’ if you love until it hurts (A LOT!) there is no more hurt, only more love’. Honestly, we have experienced it. Yes, periods of long abstinence are still difficult but we have really learned to navigate them gracefully and joyfully, offering up the pain and rejoicing in the freedom in return.

    There is NOTHING more freeing than to experience the deep love of marriage even in the absence of sex. We have really learned to trust and appreciate each other more and we have become much more creative in our expressions of love due to the prolonged abstinence while the non-abstinence periods are absolutely blissful! As a matter of fact, there is no describing the ecstasy of love making and the anticipation of love-making after the periods of abstinence. 10 years into marriage, a bunch of kids later, and it still all feels new. We are so grateful to NFP for that!

  13. Very good article Sam! … Having a husband who is willing to exercise self-denial–both in NFP and in other aspects of married life–is inspirational, humbling, and one of the greatest blessings of my life.

  14. While I agree that the “NFP is great and perfect!” propaganda is a bit much, what I’ve personally found is that the abstinence part is not all that bad if you are already used to practicing abstinence before marriage. Since I was already in the practice of self-mastery in the area of sexual desire before marriage, this practice was not foreign to me as a married man either. If you really do learn to implement SPICE then it can really improve your marriage.

  15. I thought the whole point of NFP is that you can work to space your children naturally while still being open to life… you know, working within God’s natural design of the human body without deliberately using man-made preventative barriers to avoid pregnancy. Look, if God wants you to have a child, you will have a child even while using NFP to avoid it. There is nothing in Church teaching that suggests that all married Catholic women between the ages of 20 and 40 are morally obligated to be constantly pregnant and cranking out babies non-stop. Seriously, do you really think that God is going to be upset with a couple for trying to space out kid number 2 because they are still recovering mentally and physically from kid number 1? Or because the poor mom wants to try and lose the 20 pounds she gained from her last pregnancy instead of becoming morbidly obese? Or because they can’t currently afford to buy a house to support the 20 kids that they are supposedly morally obligated to have?

    Look, if you have any kids at all, you are generous. Even one kid takes an enormous amount of time, money, love and patience to raise. You don’t have to have a zillion kids to be generous. And trying to space your kids for sanity’s sake is not ungenerous. And your reasons do not have to be extreme cases or life threatening ones either.

  16. I also cannot stand the glossy photos of people holding hands. My reason is different than yours, though. I am permanently infertile. Found out at age 16 that I don’t have a uterus. So… all through college and my early 20s, people hyped up all the good that NFP does for your family, how you NEED periods of abstinence to make your marriage better, etc… and I was told (literally) that my marriage wouldn’t be as good because I wouldn’t “have the privilege of using NFP”. Lies.

    I’m now married, and I have to say that while infertility is definitely one of the worst, most underestimated and misunderstood sufferings imaginable, non-NFP, uninhibited, no worries style married love is a blessing. If you have this AND you have the possibility of creating life, I envy you. Because I know what half of it is like, and that half is amazing.

  17. Hello All,

    I have wanted to leave a comment on this post for quite sometime as it was nice to find a place where other men were talking about this topic. Often, I had a difficult time finding the male perspective. For the comment I would like to leave below, I would ask kind and patient responses only. On other forums I have asked questions and received responses that leave me feeling judged and simply wrong for feeling the way that I do. They do not lead to actual solutions just short one line sentences that basically say “deal with it”. If that is what you feel compelled to tell me, please just don’t comment.

    Stats:
    Married 10 years and have two children
    Lifelong Catholic (and sinner, but always working at being better)
    NFP Users

    My wife and I were never made clear on the teaching at the beginning of our marriage. We should have sought out guidance, but didn’t really even think to look that deep. We were 22 and stupid. As we grew in our marriage and faith together, my wife wanted to work to bring our life in line with the church’s teaching on marriage intimacy. We stopped practicing the use of contraception about 7 years into our marriage and proceeded to have 2 kids and 2 years. We are blessed for having the fertility and I certainly appreciate this as a gift. (I pray for those who are not blessed with this ability and do not take it for granted)

    All of this being said, we are not as blessed with finances that support a large family, or even support of family around us to help with our growing family. So this has put me at odds with NFP as we are now practicing more abstinence than anything else as we simply can not afford (in more ways than 1) to have a child right now. Here are my three thoughts where I would appreciate some guidance.

    I will continue to practice NFP but am definitely in the beginning stages that the article talks about right now. (Frustration, Anger, Grumpiness) These are my three road blocks and I would love to hear what other men did to get by them as that is what I intend to do.

    1. With many of the church’s teaching it is so clear to me how they help you grow closer to God and why the sin is wrong. I understand how pornography harms so many in its practice and harms peoples view of intimacy etc. I understand why you must wait for marriage for a sexual relationship. The bond of marriage is like nothing else I experience in life, and that type of intimacy is made whole by that union. But how does abstaining and resisting the natural affection I have for my wife draw me closer to God or my wife. I have a hard time just accepting the “sacrifice” part. Many parts of my life is sacrifice as we have children. (We have no money, no time, and are very sleepy! This is a sacrifice I do love however.) If we get an hour of free time a night it is a small miracle. I feel more than ever that my wife and I are roommates or business partners. If the timing does line up with NFP we have gone months without being able to be intimate. I do not feel closer to God or my wife…I need help here

    2. The church has changed since the writing of Humanae Vitae. If you look at the time period in the late 60’s, the Church was a very different/supportive place for families. Catholic education was significantly cheaper than it is today, when going to Mass you were one of many families, as opposed to getting dirty looks from others when you children misbehave. How is the church providing the tools for successful families? They give direction, but I wish I felt like it was a team effort, other than just deal with it?

    3. I have read articles that tell me how tough it is….I have read articles that say if you really love your spouse you will want NFP and if you don’t want NFP you must not love you spouse, but I have not read articles that have gave tips for ways of thinking or dealing with the difficult moments? How do I deal with the difficult moments??

    I do not feel that God is calling me to NFP…but I want to. It has been very difficult years as we pursue this life style. Please help. Sorry this was so long, thank you if you read it all the way through. Thank you for the prayers.

    • Beautiful, challenging, raw journey Dan! Your desire to ask the questions you are asking show a beautiful humility — and it is humility to Christ that opens doors to God’s wild abundance! In my wife’s and my experience with NFP it is a barrier to Right Relationship rather than a benefit — it is because of this barrier that we discovered embracing life with wild abandon instead of trying to control what wasn’t ours to control in the first place. Burdened with limited income, me being disabled with permanent brain injury, and other issues, left us both believing we had discerned our circumstances were “serious.” But we didn’t experience the joy of peace that comes from following Christ with wild abandon. We embraced life, have since experienced multiple miscarriages, one baby who died soon after birth, and two more beautiful daughters and we pray for more.

      Amazing things happen when we chose to be open to life with wild abandon. Stunning freedom and peace. No barriers between husband and wife as One Flesh, and thus experiencing spousal prayer in a deeper more luscious way than ever before. We discovered trusting God with wild abandon opens gifts that were always right in front but never seen or accessible because of selfishness, of putting the wrong things ahead of the right things.

      I know our Bishops describe NFP as selfless, but our experience with it was NFP blocked us from trusting God with wild abandon. We realized that our standards of burden were really areas where we trusted Satan more than God. May God startle you with joy!

      • Thanks for sharing Deacon Patrick! I’ve heard the expression from some that we are called to “procreate with reckless abandon.” But unfortunately, this is nowhere in Church teaching. Actually, the Catechism says the opposite. That we are to procreate responsibly. I choose to follow Church teaching.

        • Exactly, Bobby! Which begs the question: what is responsibly? How do we ensure we put the right things ahead of the wrong things? After all, putting the wrong thing ahead of the right thing is one way to define sin. I’m with you, “procreate with reckless abandon” is not what we are called to do. First, it puts the focus on procreation — and we have no control over that except by making love while being open to life. Being open to life with wild abandon is something else entirely, something we are called to be, no matter if we are celibate, married, practicing NFP, infertile, single, we are called to always be open to life with wild abandon. What is wild abandon? Raw, complete trust in God over all fear.

          Taken out of context of always being called to be open to life with wild abandon, the call to “procreate responsibly” easily justifies not having kids for almost any reason. “It’s irresponsible of me to have a child before I have their college fund filled up.” In a society that teaches us to be afraid of scarcity, and that God is a God of scarcity, how to we learn that the opposite is true? How do we discover that God is a God of wild abundance who wants to share that wild abundance? “Go forth and multiply” … “one flesh” … this was God’s commandment to Adam and Eve who had to trust absolutely in God to provide for them.

          May God startle you with joy!

    • I don’t have practical experience with married life, but I can give my best current understanding. In short, although periodic abstinence is licit, it may not be a wise thing to do.
      That is because sex is addictive, and having orgasms increases the urge to have more sex. Much of the grumpiness caused by abstinence is caused by addiction, and abstinence gets a lot easier after the brain has been rebalanced. That may take a couple of weeks, or if one has indulged in extreme pornography for a long time, several months.

      So, abstaining for a couple weeks in NFP and then indulging in unrestricted sex during the infertile phase makes the following abstinence that much more difficult. I would lean towards the position that it is better to abstain entirely from orgasms, if conception is not desired.

      Physical intimacy between spouses alleviates sexual urges, because oxytocin produced by intimate relationshipd acts as an antidote to addictive behaviors. Intimacy should not be ordered to sexual passion, because that would lead to frustration. Instead, with a little practice, it is possible to engage into emotionally fulfilling and oxytocin-producing activities such as mutual relaxing together, cuddling, smiling to each other and so on. A little practice allows to rewire the brain such that abstinence becomes a lot easier.

    • Dan, mine is a wife’s response (because my husband would never in a million years talk about NFP). I think, first, you have to remember that abstaining is a cross. If you or your wife had cancer, that would be a cross. You could never make the pain and discomfort go away; you’d just have to deal with it as the human condition and offer it to God, asking and trusting that he will bring good from the pain. I think, if you offer the NFP pain to God, that will be a step in the direction of peace. It won’t make NFP go away, but it will help. Don’t concentrate on the pain; look at the goal. If a woman concentrated on the pain of childbirth, she would never have kids; her mind is on that healthy baby.

      That being said, I know NFP was much harder for my husband than it was for me. I had health problems (and was just plain old, mom tired) and having sex was often the last thing on my mind. We had the most arguments during the NFP years. However, we have a very solid marriage and genuinely like each other and enjoy each other’s company on a non-sexual level. We share a lot of interests besides the kids and the bedroom. That helped get us through the difficult NFP times. Now that I am in menopause, I do have to say that it’s like being newly married except that we don’t have the newlywed energy. Our relationship and love has never been stronger. I wouldn’t say it was just because of NFP, but because of a whole combination of factors from developing our friendship to maturing to parenting. Different couples have different strategies for getting through NFP, but of primary importance is talking about it. I know there is nothing worse for a husband than the wife thinking NFP pain is not a big deal (don’t ask me how I know). Talk about it. Second, take up some hobbies. My brother joked that he and his wife became good at card games during the NFP times. My husband finally finished writing a book. Don’t underestimate wholesome distraction.

      Your complaint about the lack of support today is well taken. I don’t know how to solve that, except by reaching out to other couples and families.

      How do you deal with difficult moments? Like you deal with all difficulties of life – prayer (and for a Catholic, prayer and the sacraments).

  18. Sam, I don’t understand why you boast about your ability to avoid the natural end of marriage. I’m not saying that temporary abstinence, or continence, is a inherent evil, but wouldn’t it be more proper to your state in life to boast-if you felt so compelled-of the strength, perseverance and faith God had granted you to give your wife children and to raise them in the faith despite any hesitancy you may have as to your or your wife’s abilities to handle all that comes with that kind of faith? Doesn’t it strike you as odd to boast of your ability to employ a means to frustrate this end?

  19. Dan, you are brave to ask for support. I think your comment brings up an important point. Using NFP offers a wide range of crosses. So many crosses that they are too numerous to name here. I believe that the NFP community would benefit and grow from having compassion for the various crosses that NFP offers. When you feel called to avoid a pregnancy and have to abstain it can be so challenging and like Deacon Patrick said it can cause discord and frustration. Then when you try to reach out for help or support you get judged by Catholics who think that you are wrong to even try to avoid a pregnancy. If you mention it to your doctor you get laughed at. The fact is that NFP use is not common. Even among Catholics. More Catholics contracept than use NFP. I think it would be wise as a community to open our arms and support people who feel challenged with the cross that NFP offers.

  20. Contraception, we all know, has various, awful side effects. I have never met a woman who is actually happy with her form of contraception. If you take time to talk to couples seeking a vasectomy or tubal they are at their core relieved to not deal with their fertility, but they are also torn and sickened at what their spouse is asking them to do. NFP is SO needed. Unfortunately secular people (and other Catholics) will never be inspired to even try NFP if us NFPers are over here fighting with each other about what qualifies as a “good reason” to avoid a pregnancy or what form of NFP is superior. Would it be fair to assume that if a couple is open enough to even use NFP that they are likely prayerfully discerning whether or not God calls them to have another child right now? Thus it’s nearly impossible to use NFP in a “selfish” way. Abstinence is awful, so it is sort of a built in safety to prevent the “selfish” use of NFP. Let’s support each other and pray for each other and harness that joy that the first Christians had. Think about it…the first Christians were being martyred left and right, yet people still were drawn to become a Christian. We need to do the same thing with NFP. No one will want to try NFP or follow the true teaching of the church if we are infighting, judging and claiming that at its core NFP is really just a selfish sin.

  21. Being open to life with reckless abandon sounds lovely. For medical reasons I have been warned that it will be extremely risky to my life to have another pregnancy. Having to avoid having more children at this time in my life is a terrible grief. While I might be willing to risk my life, I have four young children who appreciate having a mother. God has given us a perfectly legitimate and healthy way to responsibly limit our family size. Perhaps I need to trust more. But would you say this to someone who was diagnosed with an illness that required medication? That taking medication was a sign of lack of trust in God? Come on now. You who are condemning couples for using NFP or complete abstinence to avoid another pregnancy are cruel.

    • Matthew Sande Reply

      Thank you brother Sam for your insightful article, and thank you all for your excellent comments! NFP is simply a tool authorized by the Church to delay or even halt conception for grave reasons. Determining what is “grave” is a matter of prayer and discernment. We have six children and in the middle of them, I fell into the trap of using NFP for selfish reasons. But the birth of my fourth child ended that selfishness in my heart. What a joy children are! But there have been times when we used NFP for serious reasons, for instance, after the untimely death of my mother-in-law early in our marriage. What a terrible cross for a young mother to lose her mother! Let’s appreciate NFP for what it is, never judging others for why they are using or not using it. God bless you all for your openness to life!

  22. “A couple with three children may be more devout than a couple with thirteen. ” …best line ever.

    My wife (raised Catholic) and I(convert) have three children and we are (or at least try as we all do) a devout family. My wife is one of twelve raised Catholic, and many have stopped going to Mass, and have married non-Catholics who don’t believe, have had out of wedlock children. I know of other families that are not AS big but still large who are much more devout.

    So as we discern having a fourth child, I worry about stretching my ability to give every child the attention they deserve(I’m a stay at home dad) I don’t think it’s fair to bring a child into the world and then have the attitude of “just be happy you’re here”. I’ve met too many large Catholic families where the kids go off into bad directions. When you have one child who’s 15 and then another who’s 6 months old, and 5 more in between, it’s hard to be all things to all the children and meet each one where they are at any given age. Some of these kids are going to unintentionally be neglected or overlooked.

    I already feel terrible about not connecting enough with my first daughter who’s 3 and very emotional, but in love with my youngest daughter who’s 1.5 and my son who’s 5. And because I come from a divorced family and my dad wasn’t around much, I feel very compelled to give a lot of attention to my only son. So while we love the IDEA of having more kids, we’re a bit torn as to whether we should. A couple of other smaller reasons are my wife’s career as a university professor (planing a due date between semesters and her moderate university income), and the Zeka Virus going around this year is really scary.

    Question: What do we do if we are done having children? Do we use NFP for the next couple decades until old age kicks in? I’m 36 sooo… Where does a healthy loving relationship (sexually speaking) end and Catholic obligation to God’s Will begin? If we feel we’ve met our marital obligation to have children and raise them in the faith, are we allowed to continue to be sexually active with each other as a loving couple? Thanks Gentlemen ; )

    • Dear Nick, You spend a lot of time in your comment raising up your “Catholic credentials” above others, and yet you appear to have completely missed the point of being open to life — is discovering God’s abundance even when we fear scarcity. Everything in your comment says “closed to life for matters of convenience and failure to trust in God’s abundance and infinite love” and nothing says “we painstakingly have discerned to not have more children because of a serious reason.” The way toward Jesus our Christ is humble obedience. Are you instead trusting fear more than Jesus?

      • I don’t put my credentials above others deacon. Just giving context. Your assumption is a little offensive. I was open to life for the past 5 years in having three kids. But my wife who is the provider for the family, has to have the kids, not me. We are a devout couple and family and I’m humbly putting myself out here to gain wisdom and support and advice. I have more kids than you and are now at a crossroads..you apparently have the means and ability to have more with no concern, and that’s fantastic. Can you now stop bashing me DEACON OF THE CHURCH and offer me some real practical advice?

        • Och, Nick! I made no assumption other than taking you and your first paragraph at your word. I actually have more children than you, four of them still living. As for practical advice, it is there, if you choose to see it. I in no way bashed you, but invite and challenge you to see how sin may be present where you do not see it. Perhaps you posted your comment because part of you knows this?

        • Nick, you’re being defensive and accusatory. The Deacon at no time tried to put himself about you, nor did he imply that having more children meant anything. He gave you some REAL advice. I’ll give you some-abandon your worry and fear and place all your trust and faith in God to provide, to give you the strength and encouragement to be fully open to all His gifts, and to support your wife similarly. My wife and I have been blessed with 12 children. It wasn’t always easy, but we’ve been through struggles that few families have and I can promise you that God will return tenfold in grace and blessings what you will give to him.

          • …what about prudence? Doesn’t our Lord also teach us to be prudent? My wife is the child-bearer AND the bread-winner for the family. She can’t just pregnant and give birth whenever she wants while teaching at a university and being a research scientist. That’s our real-life circumstance. I’m sure if it was the other way around we’d have no hesitation to have more. Do you understand any of this on a human level or are you all going to pretend to be perfect online Catholics? Are you comfortable with telling me your particular circumstances that allow you and your wife to have twelve kids? Thanks : )

        • Och! I hit post too soon.

          Nick, my response has gotten your ire up. That’s for one of two reasons. Either sin in me and your ire is justified, or sin in you and your ire is trying to distract you from seeing what you don’t see. I do my best to presume the sin is mine, because I can only control one thing in this world, my choices. Please pray for me, that my sin may not get in the way of God’s work.

          God is Love. Love is infinite. Yet the “logic” of your thinking presumes it is finite. Love grows in families, with more than enough for everyone to go around.

          I’ll concretely address the questions at the end of your post. First you ask “Where does a healthy loving relationship (sexually speaking) end and Catholic obligation to God’s Will begin?” : Your question is a false dichotomy. A healthy loving relationship (including sexually) can only be experienced through humble obedience to Jesus our Christ. I urge you to become more formed in our faith. A powerful way to do this is to pray the rosary as a family daily — discovering the humble obedience of Jesus and how we are all called to humble obedience.

          Your second question was “If we feel we’ve met our marital obligation to have children and raise them in the faith, are we allowed to continue to be sexually active with each other as a loving couple?” Faith isn’t a check list of obligations and we can check them off as we go like a scavenger hunt on the way to heaven where we show our completed card. Your marital obligation is to be open to life all your life. That will look different at different times of life. In the child-bearing years it looks like making love as husband and wife and having children. Only under “serious” circumstances are children to be delayed.

          You seek concrete advice. Here it is: Pray. Together. As a family. Daily. Kneeling before Christ on the Cross. Learn about the dual purpose and gift of marriage and how striving to live that IS the path to holiness for married people. Learn what it means to need a “serious” reason to choose not to have children. Form your conscience about what the Church teaches on how to discern (prayer, study of Church teaching and scripture, consulting with priests and people of faith you admire and who challenge, even when you don’t like it. Learn your faith, then see if you even still have these questions. Most especially, learn about who God is by talking with God, receiving Jesus our Christ through Holy Eucharist, and donning a mantle of humble obedience that you may not know what you think you know.

          If you want to talk about any of this off line, please feel free to email me at lamontglen@mac.com. May God startle you with joy!

          • I appreciate your responses but could consider and comment on our concerns about having more? I’m trying to be prudent and responsible for the lives we bring in to the world.

            FYI: We do the family Rosary, say family prayers every night, go to Mass every weekend, donate to religious orders when we can afford it, I have a beautiful Fatima shrine in our home and many other statues and I have a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother and Crucified Christ and Divine Mercy Christ and I’m always asking for graces to help discern these things.

          • Also, in brief, if we have decided to not have any more children, then is abstinence our only option?

          • If it is absolutely necessary then total abstinence would be the Church teaching. But, if you use nfp cautiously, many people can employ periodic abstinence.

        • Dear Nick,

          I’m responding to your “I appreciate your responses…” comment and the one following it. You come across as genuinely struggling with this question and wanting to dialogue about what Church teaching is and how to apply it in your circumstance. Ultimately, it is you and your wife who have to decide if your situation is “serious” enough to justify choosing full or part time abstinence to not have any more children. I, and others, can help you understand Church teaching and ask questions for you and your wife to prayerfully consider, and hold you in prayer as you discern. You seem like a man of good will and I am happy to do that with you, but perhaps you could email me if you desire further interaction than this response here, as the flow of interaction can’t keep getting more and more indented (which is why I’m replying here).

          Life circumstances always toss challenges to couples. It is in these challenges and sufferings and circumstances that God’s wild abundance joyously shines through! But only if we choose to trust God and step where we can’t see a way forward but know we are called. Embracing life in marriage is often that way.

          You said, “I’m trying to be prudent and responsible for the lives we bring in to the world.” That’s good. But understand that one definition of sin is putting the wrong thing ahead of the right thing. Additionally, what you call prudence, may in fact be a deadly sin in disguise. How in the world would you know? Community. Assessing your actions and words and choices for the fruits of following God’s will.

          This story may help frame more of what I’m about to dive into: http://ourholyconception.org/budding-branches/

          The reality is that every choice we make does one of two things: it either grows our inner Saint or our inner Sinner, diminishing the other. What I found concerning in your initial post and responses is how much fear appears to both shape and justify your decision to not have more children. That is a sign that the Sinner is at play and likely hiding in ways you may not be able to see. Sin grows when we ignore it, and it shrinks when we name it and face it and instead choose virtue. The Trinity Sword Pray may be a prayer you find helpful in this? http://ourholyconception.org/trinity-sword-prayer/

          In short, this choice you and your wife are discerning has serious ramifications for your souls and your marriage and if you choose abstinence (yes, it is the only moral option for controlling if you get pregnant or not, and then only in serious circumstance) for reasons of convenience in disguise as prudence (sin really does work that way) then you may experience increased strife in your marriage and family because of that choice feeding and growing both your Sinners. Many couples who inexplicably experience strife find that strife vanishes when they return to being open to life. You say prudence, but I could justify not having children for any reason and call it prudence. Is it prudent to have children without a college degree? Before having savings for their college already in the bank? I can justify any of those things in my mind, but that doesn’t mean they are “serious” or meet the reality of prudence, because prudence is never in conflict with generosity.

          The two-fold purpose and gift of marriage is to reveal Christ’s love for His Church through the love of husband and wife, and procreation. Making love can accomplish both! Grin. Put simply, this means the “default” answer is being open to life. This means a deference to that choice needs to be made in asking the question “do we practice NFP or complete abstinence?” If you are feeling frustrated because the scales are tipped toward being open to having more children (they are!), that is your invitation to more fully understand Church teaching, pray about it as husband and wife, speak with a priest and other members of your community and deeply discern if your situation is “serious.”

          Pope Paul VI defines the principle of “responsible parenthood you are concerned about when he says “…responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time…” (Humanae Vitae 10).

          Pope Paul VI does not go into what “serious reasons” are, for so much depends on the circumstances. The questions I’d suggest you and your wife prayerfully discern include:

          — How is fear of scarcity (of money, of love, of ???) influencing each of us? Are we choosing sin because of our fear, without realizing it? I encourage you to read your comments here aloud with your wife and perhaps hear them with a new ear. There may be more fear present than you realize.
          — Many challenges in marriage come because of the inherent roles of gender. Men are hard-wired to provide, protect, and explore; women to bear new life, nurture, create hearth. How we each express this call in our circumstances can look very different, but in a situation like you describe of the wife being the primary provider, there may be challenges that both of your experience. Only by naming them and facing them can you decide the wisest way to move forward, and perhaps root out any “rocks” that sin may be hiding behind.
          — Is her employment such that she would lose her job because of pregnancy? Women hold jobs while pregnant all the time and there are laws to protect them, presuming you are in the US. So I have a difficult time seeing how this is “serious” rather than “convenience.” Even if she were to be fired, (which is always a risk for a single provider, husband or wife), is it a serious matter for one of us to find a job?

          Again, if you want to talk more, I am happy to share the journey with you, but please email me at lamontglen@mac.com. May God startle you and your beautiful family with joy!

    • Nick, I would like to add that from everything you wrote, you have a deep, compassionate heart and yearn to follow Christ. It sounds like God may be calling you and your Beloved to a new level of trust and love of him — that marriage is uniquely gifted to help reveal to you. May God startle you with joy!

  23. Deacon Patrick, keep up the good work. For the married person, this truly is the path to salvation; subordination of self to God’s will. It is particularly needed in the developed West where our lives are generally so comfortable.

  24. @Sarah. It’s not that it’s absolutely necessary, but the prudent and responsible thing to do. We have a three bedroom ranch. Do you really think God would condone us having 12 children in a three bedroom home? This is what I’m trying to get at with some of you here. I’m a devout conservative Catholic, and I’m trying to do what is right and prudent and responsible. As I said before, the REALITY of the situation is that my wife is the provider for the family. I’m sure most if not all the women here with tons of kids are stay at home moms who might also home school so they don’t have to pay for Catholic school. I’m sorry, but my wife cannot be a university professor and a biological research professor and pop out another eleven kids. We’re both in our mid to late 30’s and I don’t want to be in my sixties and still raising kids who’s marriage and children I’ll never see. THAT’S SELFISH. Having kids for the sake of having kids isn’t holy or pious, it’s reckless and selfish. If we’re done having kids (and that’s an IF), then we’ll just use NFP and continue to be a sexually affectionate and passionate couple. After all, if couples in ‘irregular relationships’ can receive Holy Communion now and women deacons are just around the corner, then I think we’ll be fine ; ) God Bless.

    • Oh wow. There is so much here that requires a response — if not for you Nick, because you seem unable to hear such responses, then for any who read this thread and wonder if you have a point.
      “Do you really think God would condone us having 12 children in a three bedroom home?” Yes. Absolutely. If God desires for you to have 12 children. That is a hypothetical number given you are currently at 3. This statement of yours is based solely on fear of scarcity, not trust in God’s abundance. Have you any idea how many saints currently in heaven grew up in large families in small homes? In poverty beyond what is known in the US?
      “This is what I’m trying to get at with some of you here. I’m a devout conservative Catholic, and I’m trying to do what is right and prudent and responsible.” You keep saying this as though we haven’t heard or understood you … like a misunderstood teenager who sees wisdom everyone else is missing. You keep saying you are devout, yet not being humble in seeking to learn and apply Church teaching. Are you sure it is we who are missing what is being said, and not you?
      “I’m sure most if not all the women here with tons of kids…” You keep talking about everyone’s situation with a stunning amount of confidence in what others are doing and how they do it. The truth is what others are doing has no bearing on your situation and the choices you are making and the ignorance and arrogance you keep revealing in your responses — all of which point to the presence of sin attempting to justify itself. This is gravely concerning.
      “I don’t want to be in my sixties and still raising kids who’s marriage and children I’ll never see. THAT’S SELFISH.” You don’t want to be open to life because you might not live to see your kids marry and have children? You are exactly right: you are being selfish. Imagine that selfishness prevented your third child from being born. How much would you and the world be missing out on because of that choice?
      “After all, if couples in ‘irregular relationships’ can receive Holy Communion now and women deacons are just around the corner, then I think we’ll be fine ; )” Again, pointing to others to justify your sins? Fallacies of logic are always a sign of sin hiding, and you have a stunning pattern of logical fallacies going here.
      Pray for me, Nick, that I might better help you discover that God is far bigger than your fears! That I might help you realize that that clenching feeling you have is not because of Church teaching or our responses, but the fear of your inner Sinner?
      I urge you to read your posts and the various responses to them aloud with your wife. Perhaps hearing them with fresh ears and her perspective will help you hear what you haven’t yet. May God startle you with His wild abundance, even more than He does the sparrows!

    • Nick,

      You asked me earlier in the thread “…what about prudence? Doesn’t our Lord also teach us to be prudent?”

      Of course. But this is a false dichotomy. Procreation is the natural end of marriage. So if you’re concerned about prudence, the question would be, “Is it prudent to separate the natural end of marriage from the marriage?”

      “My wife is the child-bearer AND the bread-winner for the family. She can’t just pregnant and give birth whenever she wants while teaching at a university and being a research scientist. That’s our real-life circumstance. I’m sure if it was the other way around we’d have no hesitation to have more. Do you understand any of this on a human level or are you all going to pretend to be perfect online Catholics? ”

      There’s no reason to be petty; no one here has claimed (let alone pretended), to be perfect, online or off. If you don’t want your ideas to be scrutinized, why are you asking these questions publicly? Why are you lashing out at people when we are answering YOUR questions?

      But to your question…I don’t know the circumstances that have led you and your wife to put her, rather than you, in the workplace. I think most observers would immediately question that, given the difficulty that has caused (by your own admission here), within the marriage in terms of your primary obligations. It may be a ‘real life circumstance’, but is it one that you can change?

      “Are you comfortable with telling me your particular circumstances that allow you and your wife to have twelve kids? Thanks : )”

      I’m not sure what you mean about my particular circumstances? What would prevent anyone from having twelve kids? Or thirteen? We’ve simply chosen to subordinate any of our other desires to God’s will in this regard. It’s not unlike a cleric who gives up a comfortable life, a job, an inheritance, wealth and power, to serve God alone. Of course it’s hard, but that’s the life we’re called to as sons of God.

      In your subsequent comment you asked, ” Do you really think God would condone us having 12 children in a three bedroom home? This is what I’m trying to get at with some of you here. ” What does three bedrooms have to do with 12 children? Nothing. If this is how you’re approaching it, then you need to ask yourself whether your priorities are right. Sure, most homes are going to be cramped with 12 children, but what is that compared to the glory of participating with God in their creation and raising up those souls to glorify him?

      “Having kids for the sake of having kids isn’t holy or pious, it’s reckless and selfish.”

      No, having children isn’t reckless and selfish-it is the primary end for which marriage was instituted in the first place.

      I humbly suggest you find a devout, holy priest for spiritual direction on this. While I don’t know all of the particular circumstances of your personal situation, the views you’ve offered here publicly are at odds with what the Church teaches. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to discuss any of these things in person.

  25. I too have struggled with NFP. It has made me aware how selfish and childish I can still be. But the good thing in making these things painfully obvious is that I can now address them and grow in my walk with Christ through prayer….and lots and lots of confession.

    Thank you for your honesty about your experience with NFP and the Sacrament of Marriage. You are correct in saying that both are painted as blissful meadows but both are difficult and take work, but all of the work is worth it for sure.

  26. Sometimes, exercising NFP (aka abstinence) for a week or so is a great exercise in virtue. It is helpful for me because I am in the National Guard. I have been on deployment once and am facing another one soon, and deployments away from my wife are always difficult, especially in the area of mandatory abstinence. Thank you, Sam, for your beautiful article, as a reminder that it can very well be virtuous if done for the right reasons.

  27. Charles Taylor Reply

    Read all of the comments here at 1:30 AM because I am so mad at the wife who has no idea of how to discern when she is not fertile. So, she starts the carpet bomb approach. It is now going on 13 days. All this NFP has done for me is make it so I cannot ever touch my wife, unless she starts anything. I am beginning to hate her and resent ever getting married at times. All it has done is emasculate me, and made me drink too much and smoke too much. By the way, have 6 kids, oldest 18 and in the Marines, and they youngest who is 10. All I do is get mad, and can’t sleep and hate everybody. I know that is how it sounds in this post. Yea, I understand about sacrifice and the like, but am I only good for money? That is what it seems like. This is the negative side of NFP. Do not let anyone fool you.

    • Charles, first of all, congratulations on your openness to life. Obviously, marital continence is difficult. I’ve been through some of the things you’re describing. I’ve felt some of the things you’ve felt. Ultimately I realized I was being selfish. This is part of the reason my wife and I ultimately gave up on the whole NFP thing. We found that the freedom to love one another and accept whatever children resulted was infinitely more gratifying and marital-supporting than trying to frustrate that end. Plus it’s the reason for marriage.

      You’re a Marine, you understand the need for self discipline. Your frustration with her and NFP is not an excuse for your anger, for drinking too much or smoking. I’m not judging you, I’m speaking from personal experience. We’ve had 12 children in 22 years. I’ve been there. Ultimately you have to realize that anger, drinking, etc., is a choice you make in response to a situation. You could choose otherwise. If you give yourself to one another with abandon, your marriage will be strengthened and your love and appreciation for one another will grow.

      Why not talk to your wife and ask her just to abandon NFP? Accept whatever God gives you. Trust in Him. You trust your life to your colleagues and commanders, why not trust God with it as well?

    • Charles, don’t give in to despair my brother. It sounds like you are indeed carrying a heavy cross. All I can say without knowing the particulars of your situation is to offer it up to God, place it in his hands. Abstinence is not easy, but it is certainly better than the alternative (contraception), and perhaps better if your wife is certain she cannot handle caring for another baby. Pray together and trust in God’s providence.

    • Natural Family Reply

      You know, it could be the case that your wife may not be able to have any more children, even if you were trying. We had 4 children in the first 8 years of our marriage, but in the next 13 years we’ve only had one birth, even though we prayed for, and would still welcome more. Even if you did have another child, would that be a big deal at this stage? My mother always said that there was nothing so good for handling the teenage years as having baby in the house.

  28. The natural end of the marriage is procreation, while the supernatural end is the sanctification of the spouses. The supernatural end is superior to the natural one, so procreation is not an indispensable element of a marriage. One should consider what is the best way in their case to “promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor 7). St. Paul desires that “you to be free from anxieties”, and being free from worldly anxieties is a legitimate reason to avoid children, for example, in order to concentrate in prayer or spiritual teaching. This option is available also to married couples, if both spouses agree.

    However, people should discern their motives, as reminded above, so that that spouses don’t avoid children to obtain luxury and leisure or other frivolous reasons.

  29. some lady-ish advice Reply

    Charles, I don’t know how old you wife is, but doing the math, she is probably near her 40’s… menopause could be starting to affect how she feels about herself physically and therefore what kind of attention she is needing from you. Maybe she is needing you to show her affection in other ways so she knows you still love her as your sweetheart and lifelong friend even though she has aged and has had 6 kids. Some women can become self-conscious at that age. A little old-fashioned romance may help.

  30. The church preaches against birth control but does not do enough to make sure that NFP, the sympto-thermal method is readily available for Catholic and anyone else in every community……………… NFP puts having sex “for love” back into the equation of what the marriage relationship should be about in the first place, not how many times one can get laid!

  31. Dear My Guzman,
    I like you website very much. Inspiring articles and great topics and pictures.

    Every blessing to you and your family this Christmas,

    Fr Epeli Qimaqima
    Sydney
    Australia

  32. Beautiful article! God bless you for giving us a look at the other side as well but also letting us know that it is all worth it!

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