September 28, 2023

By Elena McDonald

The gift of Natural Family Planning (NFP) is limitless and the beauty of it lies at its core goal: participating in the creative power of God. How incredible is that? We, people of the Lord, created in his image, are given the blessing and responsibility of procreation!

Elena McDonald is a clinical counselor at The Lourdes Center

God’s design for sexuality has two purposes: the gift of procreation and the love-giving between a man and a woman in a marriage union. NFP honors God’s design for married life and sexuality by respecting and cooperating with our fertility rather than suppressing it or taking action to render the sexual act unfruitful. NFP can be used to both achieve a pregnancy and avoid it, giving the couple responsibility to decide when they are ready for children, how many children they can support, and when it is the best time to have another child.

We have heard these teachings and benefits of NFP many times before, but many questions arise. How does NFP affect the marriage relationship in reality? How does a married couple handle the times of abstinence? Do those times hurt the marriage? How do I talk to my partner about my thoughts, fears and desires regarding our fertility and sexuality?
If you’ve ever found yourself pondering these questions, I’d like to offer the mental health counseling and marriage counseling perspective on NFP, which can help to answer them.

Doctors John and Julie Gottman spent most of their lives studying married couples and their relationships. They studied couples of all ages, backgrounds, religions, socio-economic statuses, cultures, and even followed their journeys over decades to see how marriage and relationships change over time. Decades of research helped them identify relationship patterns and specific dynamics that predicted the success of a marriage with almost 100 percent accuracy. Based on their findings, they developed a world-famous methodology to marriage counseling, The Gottman Method, a highly effective research-based approach to helping couples with marriage problems.

According to the Gottman’s findings, there are a few things couples who have exceptionally healthy, happy, long-lasting and successful marriages regularly engage in or practice. They called these types of couples the masters of relationships. Unhealthy and unhappy marriages, on the other hand, tend to lack these qualities completely. So, what are these things, and how do they relate to NFP?

Building love maps

Remember when you and your significant other just started dating? You were asking each other questions about your families, your favorite foods, places you want to visit, hobbies, music, and so on. You were getting to know your significant other and by doing so, you were building his/her love map. These love maps help us know our partner’s likes and dislikes and help us grow closer in the relationship.

However, many couples tend to avoid certain topics (such as fertility and sexuality) or stop updating each other’s love maps after a few years of marriage, thinking they already know everything there is to know about their partner. Masters of relationships, on the other hand, freely talk about the most intimate topics and continuously update each other’s love maps because we all change, mature and grow as people, so our values, preferences and hopes change as well.

The NFP lifestyle requires and encourages couples to talk about their sexuality, sexual health, desires, children, and hopes and fears about pregnancy; thus, it promotes more intimacy and openness between partners, strengthening their union.

Rituals of connection

Masters of relationships also highly value and continuously engage in rituals of connection, which are any special activities the couple participates in to express and celebrate their love for one another. Some examples include deep conversations, regular dates, a special hug and a kiss after work, anniversary celebrations, rituals around sex, and so on.
NFP not only encourages the couple to explore, engage and talk about their rituals related to sex, but also beautifully inspires other forms of intimacy and bonding during the times of abstinence. This in turn reignites the courtship. Every month a couple can go back to the sweet and tender phase of their relationship when they just started dating, and then get to experience the honeymoon phase all over again.

Shared meaning

Lastly, people in healthy and happy marriages develop sets of shared meanings pertaining to their values, beliefs, goals and dreams.

NFP inspires the couple to invite God into their marriage and grow in a relationship with him at the center. Through building love maps, rituals of connection, and relationship with God, husband and wife unite in the mutual responsibility of procreation and form shared meanings about family, unconditional love, faith, parenting and marriage. The NFP lifestyle deepens their faith and promotes couple communication on difficult, personal and existential topics, thus strengthening their relationship and marriage.

Natural Family Planning is not just a Church-approved set of guidelines to achieve or avoid pregnancy. It is a true gift of the Lord.