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How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage?

Natural Family Planning Benefits Marriage

As you know if you have read my previous post describing what Natural Family Planning is and watched the NFP Informational Video, my wife and I are big proponents of Natural Family Planning.  I often cite NFP as one of the best things that has happened to our marriage, so I thought it would be helpful to provide a summary of the marriage benefits of Natural Family Planning to give you more insight into why we feel this way.

First of all, I need to let you know that some of the best benefits that NFP has provided for our relationship have really been intangible.  My wife and I have a great deal of peace about our sex life both from an intimacy standpoint and on the moral/religious/spiritual front.  And trust me, that’s saying a lot for a young Catholic couple trying to do the right thing. :)

When we found Natural Family Planning and started using it, we no longer had any of the lingering, often back-of-mind, worries about whether we were harming her health, marginalizing our intimacy, or reducing our sex life to something less than it should be.  From the outside, especially from a guy’s perspective, NFP can seem daunting and quite confining.  After all, it does require some periods of abstinence and we men aren’t the biggest fans of that idea.  Well, I’m here to tell you that after five years of using it, Natural Family Planning represents incredible freedom for our relationship.

Now for some of the more tangible benefits.

Five Benefits of Natural Family Planning for Marriage

1. A Stronger Bond. My wife and I have always been close and shared a special bond.  After all, we got married and have been a happy couple for many years.  However, when we started learning about Natural Family Planning and then started to put it into practice together, we grew closer on a level that I never knew was there previously.

When you can talk about the intricacies of your wife’s fertility signs (because you’ve bothered to learn them) and interpret those signs by her side (because you really care), you have a good bond.  And when you do this day-after-day and month-after-month through challenging times and in the face of cynical friends (and even family), you have an incredibly close bond that only you can share.  And when you come to the realization that sex truly is intended to be a religious experience (and you have experienced that way), you have formed a bond that you actually didn’t know was possible.  You just don’t get that from a condom.

2. Open Communication.  Listen, I have talked to my wife routinely about basal body temperatures and cervical mucus.  And not in the super sexy, erotic way that you must be thinking (that was a joke, just to be clear).  No, I am confident that I have more knowledge of the female fertility cycle than five generations of my forefathers combined.

Who cares?  My wife.  She knows that I care about her body, her sexuality and her soul because we routinely communicate about it.  You cannot effectively practice Natural Family Planning without improving the level of communication in your marriage.  It’s part and parcel, and it is one of the sweetest benefits of the process.

I simply cannot imagine a more intimate and sacred topic of conversation than that of fertility and the willingness to accept children (or not).  My wife and I have these discussions on a regular basis, and it has made us excellent communicators in all aspects of our marriage.

3. Mutual Decision Making.  When we decide if we are going to have sex during the “transitional” times between fertility phases, it is a complete and total mutual decision.  It really cannot be one-sided and it requires open communication.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times throughout each month where total spontaneity are possible…and fantastic.  But there are those times where we have to think together and reach important mutual decisions.  For us, this ability to make decisions together has enhanced everything from our finances to our parenting skills.

4. Raises Appreciation of Intimacy.  This one rocks.  We used birth control for the first four years of our marriage, and we thought we were getting all that we could out of our sex life.  We were wrong.

With the introduction of Natural Family Planning, the intimacy in our marriage (both inside and outside of the bedroom) achieved entirely new levels.  It wasn’t that things were all that different physically, but they were worlds better emotionally and spiritually.  Through our decision to try NFP, our NFP training and especially in our daily use of Natural Family Planning, we have definitely learned an entirely different appreciation for sex and intimacy.

Oh, and the “honeymoon effect” after the brief periods of abstinence each month is pretty sweet, too.

5. Marriage Insurance.  I think this term really sums up the value of all the other benefits in a very real and tangible way.  I’ll let the statistics speak for themselves:

The divorce rate for couples practicing Natural Family Planning is less than 5%. For the general population, it is nearly 50%.

‘Nuff said.

I hope this post helps to provide some insight into why I am so comfortable telling others that Natural Family Planning is the best thing that has happened to our marriage.  There is much more to this story, and we’ll get there with time.

For now, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  Do you practice NFP?  Have you even heard of it before this post (or before finding Engaged Marriage)?  What problems/challenges do you think you would have if you tried it?  This topic is a passion of mine, and I really want to hear from you.

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About Dustin

Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

Comments

  1. We pretty much do natural family planning. I never thought of it as far as it affecting our marriage- but you make some great points that I never had thought about. I am more into natural planning than my husband- I’m going to pass this article on to him. It’s really a great one!
    .-= Samantha @ Mama Notes´s last blog ..His Face. =-.

  2. Thanks for another great article about NFP! Our favorite part about NFP is how it helps our communication and the freedom it gives us. You cannot help but improve your communication when you talk about fertility signs and concieving or postponing almost on a daily basis! And an additional benefit we’ve noticed in our marriage is how it changes our attitude towards children and increases our openness to life-arguably the greatest blessing God can bestow on a mariage! And thanks for the statistics-definately impressive!
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Responsible Parenthood =-.

  3. Thanks Samantha! I’m excited to hear that you guys practice NFP, and I hope this gives you some more insight into the benefits in your marriage. You may be seeing the positive effects without even realizing why!

  4. Sarah, thanks for the great comment. I couldn’t agree more, and it’s exciting to hear from others who have benefited from NFP and are (rightfully) fired up about it!

  5. Guggie Daly says:

    That’s a good compilation!

    I’ve used fertility awareness since my teen years just b/c I like knowing about my body (I only used it for personal hygiene reasons). And then after we married, we used NFP to conceive DD (success on the 2nd cycle of trying yay!).

    Unfortunately we experienced an early miscarriage in October so we are going to use NFP to monitor the next several cycles so we can get an idea of what’s happening. It seems I have a LPD.

    So I would like to point out that in addition to all the great benefits you mentioned, there is the additional benefit of health monitoring. With NFP, you do not use harsh chemicals, plastics, latex or fake hormones. You also learn about the female body and how it works. This is powerful stuff! It means we can take care of our bodies on a whole new level.

    (And anyone concerned with the spontaneity problem should try out the marital embrace after abstaining through ovulation lol!)

  6. I am still in the early stages of using NFP and am having some trouble with everything, but am hoping it will get easier with time! Thanks for reminding me of all the good things :)
    .-= The Northerner´s last blog ..Hold the Holiday Cheer =-.

  7. Hey there Northerner, I totally understand what you are going through. The first few months can certainly be a challenge and a strain both mentally and emotionally. There is a lot to learn before you feel totally comfortable, and the transition off of The Pill complicates matters. Your body takes a couple of cycles to really get into its natural “rhythm” after many months of having artificial hormones control things.

    Please rest assured that the payoff is worth it after you get into a more normal state physically. If you need any help or encouragement along the way, please don’t hesitate to contact me. If I can’t help you, I have developed good relationships with several awesome NFP experts that would love to offer their help!

    • hi,
      i stumbled upon your website through ‘holymess of marriage.’ i/ we are interested in NFP but don’t know where to start (and aren’t in a place where we feel as though having a baby would be a ‘good idea’, for lack of a better way to phrase it.
      anything you have to offer on the subject would be helpful. i’m sure you’ve got information on here somewhere, but i just finished reading this post and haven’t had time to poke around much yet. :)
      thanks!

  8. Good brief summary of the benefits. Under #1, you can include a stronger physiological bond because of the non-barrier, oxytocin factor, too! Don’t forget the spiritual benefits (if you’re religious) in cooperating with the Divine Plan–this can’t be underestimated! As I know you’ve experienced, and others as well, NFP was the beginning of awesome things in the life of virtue.

  9. Thank you, NFPworks! I can always count on you to highlight the incredible spiritual (and physical in this case) benefits that NFP offers.

  10. Guggie, absolutely great addition!

    I know other commenters (Batrice Adcock in particular) have referred to a woman’s fertility cycle as the Fifth Vital Sign. And for good reason, as it can tell you so much about the state of health of a woman when it is being monitored the way that NFP requires. I know that some diseases have even been discovered early based on an awareness of changes in the fertility cycle.

  11. My husband and I are newlyweds (8 months!), and while we both love the idea of me discontinuing the Pill and using NFP, we are a bit nervous we won’t have the control needed to abstain, especially in these first few months when we are still learning how to read the natural signals. We both definitely appreciate any advice you have for those just starting out with NFP.

  12. Batrice Adcock says:

    My husband is going through RCIA right now. I am his sponsor, so I go with him, and the process of being even more united spiritually is so satisfying. His “conversion” started when he heard Christopher West for the first time give an introduction to the Theology of the Body. Then, the Church’s teachings on sexuality/contraception/NFP, and our practical and successful lived experience with NFP gave the rest of Catholic teaching credibility for him!!

  13. Kelsey,

    You have an excellent and very important question, so I wanted to get you an expert answer. Batrice Adcock is a registered nurse, an NFP instructor, an NFP program director, and an open and honest person that has become my friend through this site. She is also in her late 20′s and growing in her marriage like the rest of us. I have pasted in her response to your question below. Please feel free to contact me with additional questions, or I’m sure Batrice would be happy to help you as well (her contact info is included).

    Thanks so much for being in touch Dustin.

    The couple really does not need to be too concerned. I just looked back at my teaching materials in regard to coming off the pill. The specific instructions after coming off the pill are (according to the Marquette Model, more info. at, http://nfp.marquette.edu/sc_nfp_after_hormonal.php):

    • Avoid intercourse and genital contact for one cycle

    • Abstain during the preovulatory phase in the second and third cycles post-hormonal contraception, resuming normal instructions in the postovulatory phase. Normal instructions can be resumed in the fourth cycle if no difficulties persist.

    I’ve uploaded the entire “Special Circumstances and NFP” document at http://www.sendspace.com/file/viixsu and I would recommend the couple read the section on coming off the pill. It references the sections on short and long cycles and unusual bleeding as well. So, I recommend they read those sections too.

    We recommend that any couple who is just starting NFP abstain for the first cycle anyway. So, these instructions are just a little more conservative, because lingering “pill” hormones can affect the mucus sign.

    In addition, I would recommend this couple and anyone wanting to improve their marriage listen to the following talks. They emphasize the benefit of temporary abstinence for relationships but provide a nice overview of the different aspects of spousal love also.

    When NFP is Too Hard
    Greg Popcak, Ph.D.

    Frequently when couples complain of NFP being “too hard,” they are actually having problems in other areas. Rather than being the source of the problem, NFP can facilitate a couple’s spiritual and prayer life, help a couple discern family size, and help a couple achieve holiness by developing self-mastery and self-control.

    Listen to for free at: http://ccli.org/resources/podcasts/conventiontalks.php

    Holy Sex! A Catholic Guide to Infallible Loving
    Greg Popcak

    Discover the Catholic Church’s best-kept secret: that sex is meant to be a joyful, sacred, sanctifying, uniting, and creative experience that unites a husband, a wife, and God! Explore how faithful couples can get everything God intends for their physical intimacy and unlock the secrets of becoming creative, passionate, faithful and “infallible lovers.”

    Listen to for free at: http://ccli.org/resources/podcasts/workshoptalks.php

    Dr. Greg Popcak is a nationally recognized expert in Catholic pastoral counseling, especially in the areas of affective disorders (depression, anxiety) and marriage and family problems. He is also the author of seven books that integrate the faith with counseling psychology, and the co-host (along with his wife, Lisa) of a daily, nationally-syndicated Catholic radio broadcast, “Heart Mind & Strength.”

    Please feel free to post this on your site!! Thanks for contacting me!

    Batrice Adcock, MSN, RN
    Natural Family Planning Program Director
    Catholic Social Services
    Charlotte, NC
    cssnfp@charlottediocese.org
    http://www.cssnc.org/naturalfamilyplanning

  14. Speaking of Batrice, hey there! That is so cool that your husband found his faith through the Church’s teachings on sexuality. So many others put their otherwise seemingly strong faith aside when faced with those same teachings!

  15. Hi! I found you through Enemy of Debt. Very interesting blog. I’m not married but I like to read it for a different perspective. Just one (slight) quibble – I’m sure your statistics are right regarding NFP and divorce rates, but that’s not necessarily because NFP causes a lowered divorced rate. I’d imagine that many people who pratice NFP have religious compunctions against divorce, which leads to a lowered divorce rate for those couples. Correlation does not imply causation.

    It’s akin to statistics that say couples who live together before marriage are more likely to get divorced. Well, it’s not the act of living together (or the act of practicing NFP) that increases or decreases divorce probabilities, it’s because the people who make those decisions already have predisposed beliefs / philosophies on divorce that might make them more willing to stay or leave a marriage.

    But whatever helps you and your mate become closer is good in my book. :)
    .-= WellHeeled´s last blog ..The Birthday-Christmas Combined Gift Dilemma =-.

    • WellHeeled,
      I had a comment like this also, and although I think it is a very good point and you may correct that couples who practice NFP have very strong religious beliefs that also contribute to marrital stability, or at least longevity, I don’t think it can completely explain the huge discrepency in divorce rates. I believe that most, if not all, couples who get married intend for ‘until death do us part’. How many 5 or 10 year marriage contracts have you seen? :) And many more people believe that divorce is ‘wrong’ compared to the number of people who believe in NFP. I once saw statistics that said only 10% of Catholics practice NFP, however I have to believe that more than 10% of Catholics think marriage is until death, although I haven’t seen statistics on this… Also, think about the number of couples who begin using NFP for reasons other than religious belief, ie health, environment, pressure from peers (not sure if there’s much of that-but I think many couples start using NFP because they think they should but it takes a few years of practicing NFP before they have a true conversion of heart and embrace the theological and moral reasons for using NFP and no longer have a ‘contracepting’ attitude). Anyway, that is just my thoughts on the matter. :)
      .-= Sarah´s last blog ..aNFP Class =-.

    • WellHeeled, I had the same questions about the divorce rate. As a Sociology major in college, I’m a little skeptical when people quote stats. While the NFP/ Divorce Rate stat needs some further research, the “NFPers are religious, and religious people don’t like divorce” rejoinder doesn’t work since Catholics divorce (and contracept, I might add) as virtually the same rate as the general population.

      I agree with you that we need to articulate the difference between cause and correlation better, but because A may not 100% cause B, it doesn’t mean that there’s not a strong correlation. Correlation is still important. It’s the job of sociologists and researchers (thankfully grants are now being offered by the NIH on NFP research) to find out why the correlation is there. I agree that beliefs and attitudes (including religiously held ones) are important, but it’s not the only factor. As Sarah pointed out, a small percentage of Catholic use natural methods of family planning (it’s more like 2-4%).

      Further, you may not have seen the studies on the effect of contraception–particularly the Pill, shot & patch–but contraception effects a woman’s biology tremendously, including her perception of partners or future partners, but there’s a definite biological (not just philosophical or social) consideration here. It doesn’t mean that it’s the only determinate, but it’s one of several factors. Just like it’s not true that NFP is a silver bullet for happy marriages, we have to wonder why so many NFPers (not all are religious)are still together. It’s not just religion, but that may be our own personal motivator.

      “The Divorce Pill”
      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/08/13/health/webmd/main4347457.shtml

  16. Wow, I had thought about a good response to WellHeeled but then didn’t get back here until tonight. In the meantime, Sarah and NFPWorks have provided an OUTSTANDING response!

    Thanks to all three of you for engaging in a simply awesome dialogue. I think anyone who reads it, myself included, will learn something valuable and new.

    And thank you WellHeeled for visiting for the first time. I trust that you will find Engaged Marriage to be a site worthy of return visits! :)

  17. My husband and I are not currently religious, but I grew up in the church, went to Bible college, and was a very serious, studious, and practicing Christian for many years. What I don’t understand about the Catholic/Christian tendency toward NFP is the direct contradiction of the scriptures that talk about not abstaining unless you are doing so for prayer/fasting/etc. How do Catholics/Christians justify using NFP to avoid pregnancy when the Bible does specifically say not to abstain? Do couples who are religious and practice NFP pray and fast each time they *want* to have sex but are fertile and ‘cant’?

    On an unrelated note…isn’t a woman’s body somewhat designed to WANT sex at her most fertile time? I know that we’ve looked into NFP but I can’t imagine denying myself intimacy with my husband at the time of the month when I MOST want it! Right now I am on the pill but I’d rather do something more natural, as we do in every other aspect of our lives.

    • Kara, that’s a very honest comment and observation. The thing about Catholic teaching (including teachings on Marriage & Family) that’s different from a Protestant Christian outlook is that our source for official teaching is threefold: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition (what was handed on from Jesus through the Apostles but not written for Scripture), and the Magisterium, or the Teaching Authority of the Church. Therefore we can’t precisely answer the question “Where in the Bible does it say you can…” in entirety with a prooftext.

      Reflections of a Paralytic has a great post about it here, which of course is the shorthand of the explanation, but perhaps a good place to start: http://reflectionsofaparalytic.com/?p=708

      You are correct that a woman tends to be more aroused during the fertile time. I do think this is God’s way of encouraging union, lovemaking, and children. However, because it’s against our bodily desire to abstain during the fertile time doesn’t mean it’s a moral evil, as long as it’s in moderation, and for a good reason. For example, fasting–our body is designed to eat when we feel hungry, but it’s a virtue to fast. Likewise, practicing NFP in many ways is a virtue building discipline as well.

      Lastly, I should mention that Catholic teaching (which included all Christians until 1930, btw) only allows for the use of NFP to postpone pregnancy for just and serious reasons, and not for selfish reasons. What consists of a just/ serious reason is an entirely different conversation, though.

      Kara, do you contracept, and why?
      .-= Nfpworks´s last blog ..It’s Ovary Amazing! =-.

    • Sorry, Kara, I missed the part where you said you were on the Pill. I once was, too. What made you choose the Pill amongst other options?

      Did you know about the abortifacient properties of the Pill (as well as many other contraceptives)?
      .-= Nfpworks´s last blog ..It’s Ovary Amazing! =-.

      • Yes, I do know how the pill works. As I said, I am not religious, and while I do not agree with abortion, I do not believe life technically ‘begins’ until a heartbeat (which is somewhere around 3 weeks, correct?) It appears that the pill I am taking (the ‘mini’ pill) makes the uterus an unfavorable environment for a fertilized egg to grow in (while preventing ovulation, making it harder for sperm to get to the egg, etc.)

        As for the argument that abstaining is only for a just and serious reason, you’re right–there is a lot of variation to that. For example, my husband and I don’t believe having a lot of children is responsible, as far as being good stewards of the earth. Pregnancy was extremely difficult for me, and I am not ready to do it again any time soon. We also have felt the strain on our marriage from adding one child, and while we enjoy her immensely, we are looking forward to her getting older/needing us less/being able to be more ‘us’ again. I’d like to reiterate that we are not religious and consider ourselves to be agnostic, so while I know those who are religious might say to ‘Trust God to give you the strength’ etc etc, we are just not there.

        I did enjoy that article you linked–especially the part about fertility not being a sickness, so why would you take medication? This makes a lot of sense to me, as I feel the same way about childbirth and other things, but I still just don’t like the idea of abstaining during the time when I most want do be with my husband. Not to mention that, with a young baby and a busy/stressful life, if we are feeling in the mood (a much rarer occasion than pre-baby for sure!) than we better go ahead with it, because the ‘in the mood’ feeling might not be back for a few weeks or so! Sorry to be so blunt, but did want to give my real reasons for not feeling that NFP was right for us at this time. I am hoping that at some point, when I am not breastfeeding and cosleeping with a small child, and our love life is more normal, then NFP will be a more viable option for us. In fact, my husband is scheduled for a deployment 1 year from now, and I am thinking that while he is gone will be a great time to transition to tracking my cycle, as my daughter will be 18 months when he leaves. By the time he gets back, I’ll be an expert (at both charting and abstaining ;-)

        I’ve greatly enjoyed this blog’s information regarding NFP. Thank you so much for this conversation!

        • Kara,

          Thank YOU for being part of this fantastic discussion. I have my own moral beliefs, but I personally feel there is a lot of room in the practice of NFP for those of all religious and non-religious ideologies. And it’s one of the reasons I am so enthusiastic in spreading the word about Natural Family Planning.

          Sure, I’d love it if more people used it, but my main objective is to get people to hear and know about it. I want everyone to know it exists and to understand the pros and cons, so they can make an informed decision about their own family planning choices. This discussion has advanced that mission…I’ve had more than one person contact me personally with NFP questions (and confirmation that they’d never heard of it before) since this post was published. And THAT is awesome!

          Thank you for your sincere and well-articulated thoughts from an agnostic perspective. And thanks for keeping an open mind about using NFP in the future.

        • Kara, since you are not Catholic, there is no reason for you to abstain from anything other than intercourse during fertile times. You can still enjoy touching each other or oral sex. That makes it a lot easier!

          I am an Episcopalian who got into NFP by using it to conceive and have since used it successfully to avoid conceiving. I don’t at all regret having used barrier contraceptives, but my experience with the Pill was horrible and I think it’s just a bad idea for our health.

          Dustin, I just found your site via the Simple Organic article on NFP. I’m happily unmarried but I think you have a lot of great advice here for loving relationships of all types!
          .-= ‘Becca´s last blog ..7 Lessons from Lent =-.

  18. Did I mention I LOVE the fact that I have super-intelligent, conversational and open readers?

    Kara – Thank you for an OUTSTANDING question! I appreciate your honesty, and I can certainly relate to your thoughts. I am a skeptic at heart, a converted Catholic, and we used contraceptives for the first couple years of our marriage as well. I asked similar questions, but unfortunately did have the resources available to get quality answers. By the way, since you’re on the Pill, you aren’t actually experiencing the fertility signs/hormones that you will would (will) when you switch to NFP and no longer have all of the artificial hormones controlling things.

    NFPWorks – You continue to blow me away with your knowledge and your willingness to help answer the tough questions. I feel that the fasting example is a great one for putting the period of abstinence into a proper spiritual perspective. Thank you for being here, and to everyone else, please check out her blog at http://www.NFPWorksBlog.com Great stuff!

  19. We were introduced to NFP by evangelical, protestant friends of ours a few months before our marriage. I was hesitant about using the Pill because of the negative side affects and hormonal changes I’d heard that it induces. So after doing some research, we decided to take the plunge. My mom was very vocal about her concern that we would get pregnant within the first year. But we didn’t! I am blessed to have a quite regular cycle and we found NFP to be easy and well, natural. I admit that we did use other forms of birth control during my fertile times, instead of practicing abstinence, because we aren’t religiously or morally opposed to “barrier” types of birth control such as condoms, etc. I have loved using our version of NFP and agree that it has been beneficial to our marriage, has led us to a greater appreciation of God’s role and intention for sex, and has “worked” in the sense that when we wanted and hoped and prayed to get pregnant, we got pregnant. The first time, we got pregnant the second month we tried, the second time, we were blessed to get pregnant the first month. Anyway, I appreciated your article and just wanted to add my story! Thanks!

    • Thanks for sharing your comments, Tamara! NFP definitely does make it easier to achieve pregnancy since you know when you are fertile and don’t miss those “opportunities.” My wife and I were blessed to conceive both of our children within the first or second cycle as well. It’s great when you are a planner like me! :)

      • Sarah S. says:

        I am a little late on this conversation, but I just wanted to add that NFP is also great for those facing infertility or sub-fertility. Especially when working with an NFP aware and capable physician. See http://www.fertilitycare.org for more information.

  20. Batrice Adcock says:

    It appears there is a lot of interest on this blog from protestants. Christopher West, popular Christian speaker on sexuality, gives a fantastic short talk to a protestant audience on contraception and NFP at:
    http://theologyofthebody.com/download/category/19

    This is a free download. You will have to register at the site.

    I recommend it all the time here in NC, in the Bible Belt, and get great feedback.

    • Thanks for sharing a great resource, Batrice! Indeed, I’m proud to say we have a diverse set of faiths represented in the Engaged Marriage readership.

  21. Thanks for the link, Batrice! I’ll add to my “Where is that in Scripture” blog entry.
    .-= Nfpworks´s last blog ..Gianna Healthcare Opens in Manhattan =-.

  22. I really appreciate your personal testimony. I’m engaged, sent the the article to my fiancee. We’ve been preparing to use NFP (Billings specifically), great to hear about your positive experience with it!

    • Thanks Blaise and congrats on your engagement! I love the countdown page, very cool. I hope you find a lot of great resources here to help you guys along in your journey to marriage and beyond. Please let me know if there is a particular topic you’d like to see me write about.

  23. Interesting post – thanks for the open dialogue…

    Turns out, we (without realizing what it was called) used NFP to get pregnant rather than to prevent it. We had trouble conceiving child #2… after about 1 year of graphing basal body temperature (science! – sorry, we like to graph things), we took that data to a fertility specialist – who interpreted our results – and pretty much figured out that my hormones were out of whack (turns out, I had residual hormones – presumably from breastfeeding child #1, preventing the conception of child #2).

    NFP is a great tool to keep track of changes in your health.

    • Thanks for sharing, Meredith! I am also a big fan of the true science behind NFP. It’s really amazing how insightful a woman’s fertility cycle can be in demonstrating the state of her overall health.

      By the way, cool blog you have there!

  24. Thanks for being bold to share about NFP. I truly see it as more than simply a way to aviod or to acheive pregnancy – it is a means to an end, with the end being a happy, emotionally and physically fulled marriage. Without NFP we would not have the discernment, prayer, and communication in our marriage that we currently do. Thank God for this awesome gift!
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..my new favorite picture =-.

  25. Thanks for posting about this and for being such an advocate for NFP! We personally use the Fertility Awareness Method, which is similar to NFP, but does not mean we have to abstain from sex during our fertile times. We are just taught to use a back-up method (we learned by using the book “Taking Charge of your Fertility,” by Toni Weschler). I tend to want to abstain (I have a health condition, discovered during our last pregnancy, that would make pregnancy a bit dangerous to my health) and my hubby agrees most of the time. This way sounds awesome, though, because of the benefits you list. I just found your site and am slowly reading my way through your posts.
    .-= Stacy´s last blog ..Another giveaway over at Simple Mom =-.

    • Welcome, Stacy! I am glad you found this article useful, even to the point of giving “true” natural family planning some more thought. As you have probably gathered, we would have originally given only moral reasons for our choice of NFP (over FAM or just using contraceptives like we used to). However, as we’ve allowed NFP into our lives fully, we have realized so many benefits to our marriage that go beyond morality or anything to do with religion.

      If I somehow found out tomorrow that there was no God, we’d still be using Natural Family Planning!

  26. “Natural Family Planning represents incredible freedom for our relationship.”

    I have heard a lot of people who practice NFP say things like this, and how it has greatly improved their marriage. My husband and I have been using NFP for the last 3 months and I just don’t feel that way. NFP has been much harder than I expected. We are trying to avoid pregnancy because I am still in school.

    NFP does not feel natural to me. I feel like a science experiment having to make so many observations. I do not feel more free in my relationship with my husband, rather I feel held hostage by the chart. My cycle has been very long and we are still learning, which means lots of abstinence. It is very difficult. We waited until we were married to have sex, and its really frustrating to have to abstain so much now. I also feel so much more focused on sex now than when I was on the pill, because NFP is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing at night when I fill out the chart.

    I also think NFP is particularly hard for women, because you need to abstain when you feel most desire for sex and would enjoy it most. By the time the infertile phase comes around, I am PMSing, feeling fat and bloated, and cranky. Also, while you can look at and interpret the temperatures together, when it comes to the mucus, its all on me. It sounds simple, but the signs aren’t always clear.

    I initially avoided NFP because I did not trust that it was effective. After learning more I do think that it is highly effective if you follow the rules. However, it is honestly difficult. I think its great that people find such joy in using it, but I just don’t feel that way yet. Maybe I will at some point.

    • Marie, thank you so much for sharing your open and honest struggles with NFP. First of all, I want to ask you to check back in here because I suspect some incredibly knowledgeable women will follow my comments with helpful information and support. I am very empathetic and I practice NFP, but I still think there is unique value in hearing a woman’s take on this issue, particularly those experienced in teaching NFP.

      I have posts forthcoming that share both the challenges of NFP and our own personal story in switching away from contraception. However, I wanted you to know that we struggled greatly during our first months (like 8 months actually) because we started “official” NFP right after our first child was born and my wife’s hormones were out of whack. It was a very stressful time for us and we initially bristled to the idea that NFP was somehow controlling us or making us miss out on our intimacy.

      I think you can tell from this post that our feelings have changed dramatically since that time. As we continued to practice NFP and consider the reasons we were doing it, we let those times bring us closer together in intimacy, even when we couldn’t have sex. This all sounds so much easier looking back, and I don’t mean to sugar-coat it, but I can only speak to the fact that we have grown so much closer together through our use of NFP.

      Like I said, I will be sharing more of our story and also the challenges (including many of the thoughts you’ve shared) in upcoming posts. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if I can help in any way, and stay tuned for some additional feedback from the real experts. :)

      Thank you again for sharing so personally.

    • Marie, with Dustin, I thank you for your honest feedback about NFP. I have this complaint about NFPers when they promote NFP as a cinch, which is not the case. In fact, I did a blog post basically how much NFP sucks (http://www.nfpworksblog.com/2010/02/25/tell-people-how-much-nfp-sucks/). What I meant by that is that so often we get people on board with pithy, convincing statements without giving them the full story.

      NFP isn’t natural, if one means “relaxed and unaffected.” It does, however, go with your body’s natural functioning. NFP involves a real attention to details, and may even be stressful, particularly in the beginning. It is a discipline, which, like anything requiring discipline, can be a pain in the butt. I say “can.” I don’t think it will always be this way for you. However, NFP is natural because it goes with your body’s function–how it’s meant to be, and how your fertility is meant to be treated. Contraception is the opposite of natural for a lot of reasons, and believe it or not, will end up placing a lot more stress on you and your marriage in the long run.

      As to feeling tied down or limited by NFP, it can be this way if you look at it with natural eyes. Pray for the grace and strength to look at it with supernatural eyes, because the reasons for using NFP to postpone pregnancy are both natural *&* supernatural. Abstaining is not easy. Have you asked your NFP Instructor’s what’s up with your long cycles? If after a trial time of trying to figure it out, I would ask a Creighton Practitioner (different method) for their opinion. It might be a matter of matching the right method to your fertility. Some people do better (less figuring out, less abstaining) with different methods.

      Post-ovulation shouldn’t be your only time for intercourse. Hopefully you have some time pre-ovulation (so after and not right before your period) for intercourse as well. Most women are okay with the observations–that is, they don’t feel stressed by them–so my guess is that your overall frustration with NFP is making you feel like it’s all on you.

      My advice, other than trying to find a solution to your long cycles, is to find fellowship with other NFP users about your frustrations. It’s common, and with a little venting and further advice, many people find a lot of solace. The Facebook NFP group is decent (link on my blog), and there’s an NFP subset of the Christian Family Planning Forum. (I’ll see if I can find a link to the latter.)

      Lastly, I would add that NFP isn’t just natural; it’s supernatural. It requires communication with your spouse, prayer and love. Make sure you’re praying daily, having silent listening time as well, and praying with your spouse daily. Intercessory prayer in common is awesome, but the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours or Mass are especially fruitful. One relinquishes the difficulty and begins to advance further in virtue, it becomes a blessing willing to sacrifice for.

      Feel free to email me at nfpblog@gmail.com to continue the conversation, also! Be assured of prayers.
      .-= NFPworks´s last blog ..NFPworks Speaking in Denver April 11th =-.

      • Very well said, Jessica. Thank you so much for adding your wisdom and experience to this discussion (again)!

      • Thanks for your responses. I appreciate you encouraging people to be honest about the challenges, because I agree that sometimes people come across as cheerleaders and its annoying and not helpful. I think my main issue is that I don’t totally buy in on a spiritual level. Though I am a practicing Catholic and fully understand the logic behind the teaching on contraceptives, I don’t totally agree with it, and its difficult to buy in when it doesn’t feel quite right to me. As for the long cycles (35-40 days), i think thats just normal for me, as thats how things have always been and I’ve been tested and my hormone levels are normal. I appreciate you all being so kind in letting me vent without being judgemental. I have been praying about it and will continue to.

        • Sarah S. says:

          Again, a little late on the conversation here, but . . .

          Marie, I completely understand where you are coming from. We started our marriage with me on hormonal birth control and then learned the sympto-thermal method which we really liked, until my cycles went back to my body’s normal. The fertile time as defined by our ST method (using my observations) was incredibly long. I also, like you, had a difficult time with the mucus observation. I finally went to an NFP aware and knowledgeable physician and he had me learn a different method which NFPWorks alludes to (the Creighton Model Fertility Care System). I cannot begin to tell you how that has helped us soooooooooooo much in every way shape and form. I still have longer cycles, but we are able to define the fertile period with much more accuracy and confidence and my true fertile time is much shorter with these rules (and just as effective)!

          If you want more info check out http://www.fertilitycare.org.

          Best of luck!

          • I’ll be checking this out as well, Sarah S.! My wife has a similar fertility cycle as you, and this sounds very intriguing. :)

    • I was perusing this as a former-NFPer, it came up in discussion and I was looking back to see if my memory of what I was told (sold) at the beginning was accurate… and it was.

      My experience: I was gung-ho, healthy, reasonably aware of my body and fertility before we started and my husband was on board. We gritted our teeth through the learning curve and first year (graduate school) and decided we were ready to have a baby and got pregnant the very first cycle… Then I suffered with PPD after the birth and thanks to irregular sleep (new baby and depression) and nursing, it was very difficult to determine whether and when I was fertile. With an infant and raging PPD, getting pregnant again was really not a good idea not to mention my libido was on an extended hiatus, so we didn’t have sex for a very. long. time, which was not good for our marriage or my PPD. When we finally did – once – I got pregnant. The PPD improved but I still struggled with it after my 2nd was born and had the same issues figuring out when I was fertile, which resulted in another extended bout of abstinence ended by an ill-timed encounter resulting in pregnancy. I miscarried that time — and was amazed at how happy I was to have miscarried.

      At that point, I had a real epiphany. Being so “open to life” was so anxiety producing that it was materially harming me, my spouse, and the children I ALREADY had. All of the things I had been told about NFP were not holding true FOR US.

      (1) Our marriage suffered thanks to the long periods of abstinence that was necessary when my fertility signals were unclear — it was worst during the postpartum period (when happiness in marriage drops off significantly anyway) but even before that, it wasn’t easy-peasy. I am a natural scientist by training: inexperience with observation and the “ick” factor were not issues. Nor was training/education about NFP methods themselves. There are just hard cases and difficult “transition” times that can last months and no one was up front about that.

      (2) Improved communication – nah, didn’t happen. Involving my husband was contrived and thanks to work schedules, travel, etc. often got jettisoned. Sure, he’d help with and check the chart but most of our “communication” around the issue was me telling him “no”- just like with high school boyfriends… fun, fun, not. And he was engaged and WANTED to do NFP. It actually led to some bad habits — avoidance and passivity — that took a lot of work to unlearn.

      (3) Mutual decision making — NFP does not magically make these decisions mutual, it is how you’ve mutually decided to handle fertility. Sex should ALWAYS be mutual, otherwise it is rape. And if you are not mutually deciding to have children (and you can fudge charting or decide to abstain unilaterally), you’re in an troubled relationship regardless of how you actually achieve it. My husband and I decided what the is best form of birth control for us would be and regularly revisit the issue of having more children — I would never completely take it off the table or decide to go ahead without making sure he was totally on board though at any given time the default is no — both people have to approve in order to give it a go.

      And even while we were using NFP, having a(nother) child wasn’t a month-to-month decision. That would have been exhausting. When things were at their most stressful we explicitly decided to table the issue for a defined period of time. Even without being explicit, we were/are not in a position and I don’t think most people are that getting pregnant and having a child should be approached without a good deal of consideration and planning over the course of weeks to months considering things like school/work schedules, finances, living and transportation arrangements, health, needs of other children. While the Church generally requires a 6-mo minimum for an engagement and pre-Cana prep, we are supposed to take on a parent-child relationship at the drop of a hat… I mean trou’ with no real help prepping or caring for the child.

      (4) Increases appreciation of intimacy. Nope here too. Intimacy was so fraught with anxiety and far too infrequent while we were using NFP that it wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Even now, intimacy is hard enough to get into the schedule that there is plenty of opportunity for absence to make the heart grow fonder… and I’ve found that practice makes perfect is far more applicable.

      (5) Marriage insurance. It has been addressed elsewhere in this thread but claiming causality here is a statistical fallacy. It is just as likely that they have a common cause (more conservative, less open to divorce; lifestyles that makes NFP most workable are also most supportive of marriages) or even that the reverse is true (couples less likely to divorce are more able to use NFP *successfully* — a corollary to this would be that NFP is an additional stress that vulnerable couples may not be able to cope with so they either opt not to try/continue or it contributes to divorce).

      All that being said, I support couples choice to use NFP. There are many reasons why NFP might be the best choice for a couple… but we were definitely sold a story about how wonderful NFP is for your marriage and given none of the downsides (pre-Cana and the training we did did not do justice to the “it can be hard” part). We didn’t find any of the supposed upsides held up and then faced judgment for saying for the sake of our marriage and my health we were opting for something else, which ultimately contributed to our break with the Church. We were told following these rules were more important than taking care of each other. The lack of support and care in my/our darkest period from the place where it should have come most readily was so very hurtful.

      • That’s terrible that you got no support, but, sadly, all too common. NFP CAN be a great experience, but sometimes it is difficult, and if you get no help, it can be miserable.

        PPD, anxiety, low libido, and ambiguous fertile symptoms are often signs of the same hormone imbalance. Treat the underlying imbalance and it solves all these problems. But that requires medical support, which can be hard to come by.

        NFP culture can oversells and underdelivers. Even worse, sometimes untrained laypersons decide to take on the role of spiritual adviser or confessor to couples, often with disastrous results. All this can leave couples who struggle feeling betrayed and abandoned when things get difficult.

        Nevertheless, problems related to a dysfunctional NFP culture are not problems with the method or the philosophy behind it. Just like the many problems in churches are not problems with Christ.

        • “Just like the many problems in churches are not problems with Christ.”

          Spot on, James.

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

          Dustin

  27. I read this article and became very sad. My husband and I were using NFP, and it did work. We kept four years between our kids. Before our youngest was even two-years-old he was embroiled in an affair.

    During that affair we conceived another child. By the time I realized I was pregnant he was treating me so bad I was afraid to tell him about the baby. I lost it soon after that.

    We are reconciling, but I have been on birth control since then. It has caused weight gain and deeper depressions. I wish we could go back to NFP again, but since this is his second affair I feel like I cannot risk bringing another child into our family.

    • I am so sorry, Jem. I am not equipped to give you advice for how to cope with multiple affairs and effectively reconcile with your husband. I really appreciate you having the courage to share your story here, and I’m confident that one of the very professional and passionate people in our community will chime in as well. Thank you again for your contribution.

  28. Thank you. Sometimes compassion where it has been rare is a help in and of itself.

  29. Hey, Great info, just wanted to say thanks, really liked your article. Emma…

  30. I’m sorry but I’m also one of your readers who disagrees with the generalization that somehow NFP leads to lower divorce rates. As someone has mentioned before this AT BEST is a correlation. One to say a small percentage of Catholics use NFP and then compare that to the total number of people that use NFP is inaccurate. The are most definitely not the same sample size and should not be compared via percentages. What WOULD be interesting to know is what percentage of NFPers are indeed Catholics and/or practising Catholics, what percentage consider themselves “religious” and what percentage are in the “neither” category. That kind of figure is more reliable than a generalization.

    This is not a comment against NFP however. I think all couples should be knowledgeable, know their options and do what’s best for themselves. From the age of about 18 or 19, I’ve always known about my body, my cycle, when I’m expected to be ovulating, the signs of ovulation etc so I’ve always been aware of that. Everyone woman should have this information I believe. Myself and my husband currently use condoms, i’ve never in my life been on the pill. I’ve never had any adverse effects or reactions to the condom (though some are allergic to it).

    All in all, like I said before, do what’s best for you.

  31. I am completely convinced that NFP is the only moral and defensible family planning. The most amazing ideas I’ve ever read were contained in Chris West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners, I think it was called. TOTB is hundreds of years ahead of its time. In our marriage we used NFP and the same with 2 of my close friends. Unfortunately one of these marriages ended in a bitter divorce and my other friend lives in a difficult intimate situation as I understand it to be. He still hangs in there because he believes in the sanctity of marriage as do I.

    One comment I would like to add. It is not only the woman who has the most desire during the fertile time, it is the man too. Perhaps this is the way God designed it to be.

  32. My husband and I decided on NFP before we got married and have been using it for almost a year now. Its hard to judge whether it has brought us closer because we never used anything else, but it definitely improved our communication especially for him understanding how my body works. (He actually got sick during our first meeting with an instructor!)

    I also had a very hard time telling even my closest friends who thought we were crazy and that it wouldn’t work etc. It’s definitely not a popular choice, but the more I read and understood it, the more I could talk to my friends and help them understand. Eventually one of my friends and her husband decided to use it and the others now are more accepting (and since its been almost a year and no baby they at least have to admit that it works).

  33. I really enjoyed and appreciated your article about benefits of NFP. I’m glad that Church begins at least (slowly but whatever) to compromise with necessity of it. Clearly, i think it’s the most acceptable and moral way of contraception. Yes, children are the joy of the family, yes, we must cherish the life, but we must NOT ignore health by no means, eh?? woman can’t be pregnant constantly, we’re not female animals!!!! it’s dangerous for reproductive system, moreover, children need to be fed, clothed….. you gotta have some money, haven’t you? So, I think it’s nothing wrong with natural contraception, some period of time before procreating a new life is NECESSARY.
    P.S. In my opinion, breastfeeding is the best :)

  34. Thanks for the article!
    We really need to shed light on this. There are still so many misconceptions and even stigmas attached to NFP and so few are exposed to the truth about it- especially from a man’s perspective.
    We are newly weds and have used NFP since the start of our marriage 6 months ago.\I was, at first nervous that it would work but can add that, if you follow the rules it is an amazing way to plan your family and deepen the bond with your partner.
    God gave us this solution in the world of confusion. People just need to become educated about it

    • Thanks, Hayley!

      I totally agree with your sentiments, and I’m excited to hear that you have chosen NFP from the start in your marriage. I know that choice will bring you many blessings for years to come.

      Best,

      Dustin

  35. I’m really interested in NFP. However, I’m currently breastfeeding my 8 month old son AND on the minipill. I’m really nervous about transitioning bc I’ve never done this before. Any advice on the transitional stage?

    • Hello Beth! I’ll be glad to guide you through the transition. I’m just past it myself and have helped numerous postpartum women transition over 8 years of teaching. I teach the Marquette Method of NFP and am very knowledgeable of the other methods. Marquette gives you the option of using a postpartum transitioning protocol with a hormone monitor with a level of effectiveness of 99%–that would give you some time to start practicing observing other biological signs like mucus/temp., if you are interested. These are somewhat subjective, and since the monitor is objective, sometimes people prefer to just use the monitor. You can learn much more about it here, http://nfp.marquette.edu/sc_breastfeed_monitor.php.

      And, you may contact me at bnadcock@charlottediocese.org.

  36. Hi there! So I gotta say that I was greatly intrigued by this article. My husband and I have been practicing NFP for about a year now because of the many bad symptoms various birth controls seemed to have on myself. We have been lucky enough to be able to simply look at the calendar, and avoid pregnancy without having to measure any specifics, and we’ve found that when a woman is regular, this seems to be quite effective- however, I wouldn’t recommend it to couples who simply cannot provide for a baby at the time. Question: may I ask specifically how it has drawn you closer apart from having to speak frankly with one another? I’m very intrigued by the thought. Also , why avoid a week of intimacy instead of just settling for the withdrawal method? Is it related to Catholicism?Thanks so much for the interesting read!

    • Hi Ashley,

      Thanks so much for your comments and questions!

      Regarding the increased intimacy that NFP has brought to our marriage, it really stems from the openness in communication that we’ve experienced and the deeper spiritual connection we’ve experienced within our sexual relationship. Basically, all of the points in the post contribute to this closeness – certainly not just the speaking about female reproductive details! :)

      Regarding the full abstinence from sex when we want to avoid pregnancy, yes that choice stems from our Catholic beliefs. However, it’s also an important part of what defines NFP. There is another related method called Fertility Awareness Method which promotes barrier methods of contraception during the fertile time – NFP uses NO contraception at all.

      By the way, the withdrawal method is definitely NOT 100% effective. And if you’re using it when you know you are fertile, I’d say the chances of pregnancy are actually quite high over time.

  37. Also, what source is the divorce to NFP method ratio from? Why would that be? Simply from communicating potentially embarrassing medical news from spouse to spouse ? Very interesting.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] to you.  It turns out this is pretty important when you are creating posts about marriage, sex, romance, money, etc.  Everything here at Engaged Marriage is intended to reach you on a personal [...]

  2. [...] think this is conveyed pretty well in my post “How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage?” and also this NFP Informational [...]

  3. [...] Natural Family Planning – Dustin is a fantastic writer with great insights on marriage, kids, and self-improvement.  I came across Dustin many months ago and what caught my attention from the beginning is his and his wife’s approach to Natural Family Planning.  Now this isn’t something we are going to do, but I found it very informative. [...]

  4. [...] How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage? [...]

  5. [...] If you missed it, I’ve previously written posts discussing what Natural Family Planning is and how it benefits marriage. [...]

  6. [...] the story of our journey to Natural Family Planning (NFP) and made a really big deal about the benefits of NFP for marriage.  I’ve shared an informational video, explained what Natural Family Planning is in my own [...]

  7. Natural Family Planning: 5 Good Reasons You Haven’t Tried It | Best Relationships says:

    [...] the story of our journey to Natural Family Planning (NFP) and made a really big deal about the benefits of NFP for marriage.  I’ve shared an informational video, explained what Natural Family Planning is in my own [...]

  8. [...] reinforce the deep connection between you and allow you to express your love in a way that only the sexual union between a husband and wife [...]

  9. [...] Here are five more by Dustin Riechmann at Engaged Marriage.  UPDATE:  Here is Dustin’s link regarding the five more reasons:  How Does Natural Family Planning Benefit Marriage. [...]

  10. [...] in your parish are not living their marriage vows in one way or another and NFP has been proven to build stronger marriages and stronger families. A visiting Australian Bishop once said in a talk that the best thing that a parish could do to [...]

  11. [...] than NFP, but most couples find that once they know how to use it correctly and commit to it, their relationships are better because of the time they put into it.  That should surprise those who know that the sacrificing [...]

  12. [...] by NFP draws couples together. Here is a great post about the benefits in marriage of using NFP from the husband’s perspective (he and his wife switched to NFP from the Pill after several years of marriage). And some more [...]

  13. […] the United States, only about 1.5% of women use a form of Natural Family Planning (see Reference 1 […]

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