Marriage Preparation for IntimacyEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jessica MH Smith.  Jessica is a former Family Planning Coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Madison in Southwest Wisconsin.  She is passionate about Natural Family Planning, and it shows in this post and on her great blog NFP Works.  Whether you embrace NFP or not, I think you’ll find value in her message about focusing on a healthy marriage rather our culture’s focus on a single (wedding) day!

The selling of the American wedding is a symptom of a culture that’s lost its moral compass in a morass of  marketing.  The glossy facade of wedding sales people would crumble in a minute if it didn’t have the infrastructure of a 161 billion dollar industry holding it up.

I don’t mean to suggest that everyone in the wedding industry is out to get you. There are some really lovely people who do genuinely good work in preparing couples for their wedding day. However, there are a lot more people less concerned about your sacramental marriage and eternal happiness than they are concerned about the number of zeroes in your wedding budget.

The Marital Marketing Machine

Rebecca Mead, in her 2007 investigative commentary on the wedding industry, “One Perfect Day: the Selling of the American Wedding,” details how the purveyors of wedding day perfection in many cases set out to deliberately extort brides and bridegrooms, making them think it’s positively pedestrian to drop forty grand on one’s nuptial bash.

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I didn’t buy it when I got married, and I still don’t buy it. The marital marketing machine does a great disservice to society by encouraging couples to spend countless hours over many months planning a day that passes like the rest, but forgetting to encourage fanciful fiancés to nurture the aspects that will endure, to foster authentic intimacy.

Have You Prepared for Healthy Intimacy?

How often have you and your fiancé talked about intimacy? How will you as a married couple engage your spouse’s entire person—body, mind heart and soul? Have you discussed your family planning intentions? Do you know what the Catholic Church teaches about family planning and why?

These are all vital questions, and must not go unasked. Marital unity on these matters is essential, and without it, authenticity in your marriage will be lacking. Seek the truth, pray for guidance and find out the answers to these questions.

Fight the Culture!

We are living a long winter of family planning frigidity. Pregnancy is seen as “accidental,” a side effect of our sexuality and something to medicate rather than celebrate. Children are no longer seen as the ultimate gift of the Creator, but a burden, an expense to calculate in the credit debit register of rationalized life choices—as if you can measure the gift of an immortal soul!

Are you ready to participate in God’s creating power by welcoming a new soul into the world?

Consider Natural Family Planning

If, after discussion, you decide you have a just and serious reason (see Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae section 16) to postpone pregnancy when you get married, I encourage you to learn Natural Family Planning, or NFP.

Modern NFP is not the Rhythm Method, and it’s not a certain type of Natural birth control called Fertility Awareness Method, which relies on barrier contraception during the fertile times in a woman’s cycle.

NFP allows couples pinpoint the woman’s time of ovulation by recording daily changes in one or more of the following biological markers: her resting body temperature, cervical mucus, cervix shape or hormone levels.  All the methods are tried and tested, and some of them even allow a couple to see potential fertility-related wellness issues just by charting for a short time, thus allowing a woman to resolve potential health problems.

In fact, according to the Paul VI Institute of Reproductive Medicine, 80% of couples who experience compromised fertility can achieve pregnancy with one year of charting combined with medical treatment.

Are We On the Cusp of  A Springtime of Intimacy?

Who knew there was such a springtime in the midst of a cultural winter? Every winter has it’s end, and the forty years of winter desert walking since Humanae Vitae’s countercultural appearance in 1968 is bearing fruit.

Scores of families are discovering the Church’s wise teachings on marriage and sexuality and the gift of life giving love in their marriages. They’re eyes are opening and they’re returning to the sacrament of Reconciliation for mercy and healing. Many reverse their sterilizations and often times they’re blessed with more children.

The grown members of generations X and Y are learning John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in droves, and could not be more jubilant about the beautiful and challenging Church teachings. For these generations, including myself, we’re open to life in radical ways.

NFP is Becoming “Cool”

Natural Family Planning, if we discern a need to postpone pregnancy, is as commonplace and hip as the Apple iPhone and hybrid cars. It’s not just accepted begrudgingly and followed with resentment—young people love NFP!

There’s a growing movement of NFPers, believe it or not. And watch out when these organic Jesus freaks find each other!

There’s an instant bond among people of faith who’ve learned about the importance of cervical mucus viscosity. I’m serious.  If you can talk about cervical mucus (this is especially true in marriage), then you can talk about anything.

Contrary to popular belief and contemporary despair, true and lasting love is possible. You are not alone when you hope for it. It is absolutely possible and Natural Family Planning, when practiced with an open mind and heart, is a means for spacing children that respects your morals, your body and your marriage.

I’m not peddling false hopes for happiness or superficial substitutes for communication. NFP is the real deal.

It encourages communication because it is a shared method (meaning it’s not just women bearing the family planning burden) and requires mutual discussion and participation. She observes; he charts. Both use NFP.

Are you sold?

I invite you to a journey of radical intimacy and reckless hope. It will cost you not less than everything, but in shedding light on those dark corners of fear in your soul, you will find God’s dazzling purpose for you.  Give your fertility and everything else to God, and He will bring you into a gorgeous garden of ordinary miracles.

Photo by alancleaver_2000


For more on the “real deal” about Natural Family Planning, please visit Jessica MH Smith’s blog on the topic at NFP Works.  You can also find her on Twitter where she espouses advice as @NFPWorks.


About the author 


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.

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  1. I appreciate Jessica’s article. I can tell she is very passionate. I noticed that the discussion that linked the article wedding/marriage planning trailed off after paragraph four into an all-NFP article. I would’ve liked to heard more about how people who are invested in spiritual/intimacy marriage preparation (e.g. pastors, priests, pre-marital counselors, marriage mentor couples) are helping people make the decision. That might be a good idea for a future post.

    That said, I do think it’s important to nail down how you feel about: money, faith, kids/birth control BEFORE you walk down the isle. Either one or both parties in a marriage may change at some point in time, but knowing that what your soon-to-be spouse’s preferences are and accepting that those stances might be what you have to live with forever (and coming to terms with that, for some) is important. Most of the people I know who have gotten divorced, other than a few for abuse situations, have traced it back to money, kids or marital intimacy, or the feelings of abandonment that come from the partner focusing too much or to little on them, not to mention a severe lack of communication.

    Do my husband and I use NFP? No, we don’t. We essentially use FAM right now after we talked, listened and made a decision together. However, I think learning about NFP is a good option. I wouldn’t call it “hip” (you don’t really see it on TV, competing with the BCPs, Trojan and Nuvaring commericals) but NFP does seem to be making a resurgence as people embrace more natural & holistic health methods, Catholicism aside. The same is true for more peoples using midwives, home/drug-free vaginal births, and breast feeding (the other side of “extorting” husbands and wives to believe births are scary medical events in order to reap more insurance money). Learning all options and learning to chart your cycles is, in my opinion, necessary for any woman/couple to do, as this teaches you more about your body and, once again, opens the doors to communication.
    .-= Carrie @ Make Mine Happen´s last blog ..How YOU Became a Quitter =-.

    1. Thank you so much for your excellent comment, Carrie! I agree with your suggestions, and as you’ve probably gathered from my other posts, I have a mission to get the word about NFP spread beyond the zone of it being a “Catholic thing.” In this case, Jessica obviously is Catholic and offers a wonderful theological background on the topic, while opening it up a bit to a broader audience. I love to hear from folks like you who “get it” and see the value in this stuff for everyone!

  2. >> or the feelings of abandonment that come from the partner focusing too much or to little on them…

    “them” meaning money, kids, and intimacy
    .-= Carrie @ Make Mine Happen´s last blog ..How YOU Became a Quitter =-.

  3. I so completely agree with the points Jessica made about marriage preparation. If people spent just 10% of the time and energy they spend planning that single wedding day instead planning what they are going to do to build intimacy for the rest of their marriage, everyone would go into marriage much better prepared.
    .-= Scott´s last blog ..One Flesh (Part 5): One in Body =-.

  4. Bravo, Jessica! And thank you Dustin for hosting her guest post! I completely agree.

    I was one of those in the wedding industry (wedding consultant) and I was pushed hard by my manager to sell, sell, sell, especially the gowns with the highest margin of mark up. I was in the industry almost two years and I was good at my job. And I have to admit that I loved my job, I loved everything about weddings, But there came a time when things were not so black and white, when my view started to shift from “you deserve the perfect wedding day no matter the cost.” I became disheartened when I witnessed brides crying (almost hysterically) over what shade of white would be perfect for them or these ruffles or those ruffles (yes, these really were actual things I heard coming out of brides mouths). To help me cope with all of this I started a blog (which is no longer in existence) to speak to engaged women about preparing for marriage as well as preparing for a wedding. Eventually I became so distraught over what the wedding industry was doing to women that I quit my position.

    Now, I teach not one, but two forms of NFP to engaged couples and it is rewarding work (even though most of what I do is on a volunteer basis). I get to talk to women and their fiances not only about the excitement of their upcoming wedding day, but also about God’s views about marital intimacy and how they can use NFP to honor God in their bodies and marriage.

    Thank you both, Dustin and Jessica, for all you do to encourage healthy and God honoring marriages.

    1. Wow, thank YOU Sarah for your wonderful insight and for all of the good work you do! It’s really fascinating to hear from someone who has seen both sides of this issue. It sounds like you have a very special appreciation of marital intimacy…and just how important it is compared to finding those perfect shoes for the “Big Day”!

  5. Interestingly enough, I just spoke with a parish marriage and family director and he has published a paper regarding the phenomenon of why brides become infatuated with certain things for their wedding day (such as balloons being released when the couple exits the church or when they actually cross the line and become bridezilla). He has linked this behavior with sexual unchastity before marriage mainly, but also talks to the importance of truly preparing both bride and groom for the marriage rather than focusing so much on preparing for the wedding, which is only one day.

  6. @Sarah S. – I have seen some very virginal bridezillas in my life. Everything about the day from waking up to consummating the marriage should be “perfect… I said PERFECT!” Hehe.

    That aside, if you know the title of the paper I’d like to read it.
    .-= Carrie @ Make Mine Happen´s last blog ..How YOU Became a Quitter =-.

  7. So many go into marriage unprepared. It is so sad that mainstream society places so much emphasis and makes a big brouhaha about the wedding and fail to help those getting married set a good foundation.

    When my husband and I counsel persons looking to get married we are careful to take them step by step into different areas that they need to prepare for in their married life. It is so important to lay the right foundation.

    My husband and I are still looked at as if we have only been married a short while with no kids when we are approaching our 9th anniversary and have two boys ages 6 & 7. It’s because by God’s grace and guidance a good foundation was laid at the beginning and then maintained.

    Wow this was a long comment! 🙂
    .-= Fruitfulvine2´s last blog ..Bible In One Year Edition 2 – #45 =-.

    1. Thank you, FruitfulVine2! I totally agree with you, and my wife and I are often sought out for marriage advice even though we’ve only been married for about 9 years. It was partly these interactions that helped spur me to create this site…good thing! 🙂

  8. Hey Dustin, I stumbled onto your site through Dan Miller’s 48 Days site. I must say that your blog is nicely done.

    Well, I won’t comment on the NFP part of this article, because I’m not married and I’m not too well-versed on the topic yet.

    But I just want to comment on one particular section of your post. I absolutely agree that too many people spend way too much time planning a wedding day (with emphasis that it’s only a DAY) rather than planning out the rest of their lives together.

    I’m not really against having an extravagant wedding, but I see so many people stressing out over an event that lasts for just a few hours. I believe that time would be better spent planning on the commitment of the remainder of their lives as one unit. Thanks for this post!
    .-= Darren´s last blog ..Selecting An Insurance Company – The Key Factor To Consider =-.

    1. Welcome, Darren! I’m really excited to have you here, and I think it’s particularly cool to have a fellow 48 Days member coming over to take part in our community here.

      I totally agree with your comments, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you are able to find value in a post even though you don’t relate/understand/care about every part of it.

  9. This article was a very helpful reminder to me, and Sarah S.’s comment especially helped SO much! I am engaged and we’re planning a fall wedding. One reason I knew my fiance was right for me was that he visited a priest and spent some serious time praying and discerning with the guidance of this priest before proposing. Then, he said he wanted this wise priest to walk us through the marriage prep process together. Seeing his commitment to marriage prep warmed my heart and gave me added confidence that my husband-to-be was serious about having a healthy, lifelong marriage, not just planning a wedding.

    Now, on to Sarah S.’s comment. Sarah, thank you!!!! Let me just say, I’ve already experienced the sales pressure. Oh my. I had a sales rep at a dress store tell me that I should buy the dress I love *no matter the cost* and just cut expenses from other areas of my wedding. Wow.

    Then… when I returned the next day to try on more dresses, “my” sales rep overheard one of my bridesmaids talk about the beauty of a dress my mother already owns. She was horrified to find out that not only might I already have a dress, but it was already bought and paid for because it was “in the family.” She spent the next two hours trying to get the details of this dress and desperately trying to sell me a new, expensive one, even trying to replicate the old dress (WHY would I buy a new dress that looks almost exactly like the beautiful dress I already own????). She also became frantic when she saw my mother pull out her gorgeous old veil and heard mom mention that she had sewed the veil for another daughter’s wedding. This poor sales rep was just helpless to sell!! I almost felt bad for her.

    Reading your comment assured me that choosing this older dress (which fits perfectly, looks stunning, and is in great condition) was the right decision. We’re looking for all sorts of creative ways to circumvent the wedding industries costs while still offering guests a great time. And now I have even less guilt about it!

    1. Sarah,

      What you described is all too common. I LOVE the idea of wearing an heirloom as your wedding gown and veil. I will tell you what I tell the engaged women I work with now (these words were wisely spoken to me by my own mother when i was a bride):

      About the wedding day itself, just expect that things will go wrong (that is just life), BUT if at the end of the day you are married to your intended, the day was successful!

      This time of preparing to spend your life in holy marriage with your fiance is a wonderful joyful time. God rejoices with you. And anything that God loves, the enemy hates and he will try to steal your joy. DO NOT let the enemy steal your JOY!

      Blessings to you!

  10. The husband and I started using NFP in the first year of our marriage and it’s the best thing. It just adds a new level of confidence and intimacy. As silly as it sounds, I never feel more loved than when he records all the observations. It keeps us communicating whether we want to or not! Thanks for this guest post.

  11. I stumbled across your blog from a link on Get Rich Slowly. I am not married (or engaged), but I am Catholic and interested in personal finance and building strong relationships.

    I was reading a few posts and can’t believe I saw this one–I used to live in Madison and have met Jessica! I was at a talk she gave and talked to her briefly; she was super sweet and knowledgeable.

    I am really looking forward to reading more of your blog!

    1. That’s really cool, Marie! Jessica is my go-to person when I get an NFP question that I don’t feel qualified to answer. She just moved to Wyoming to work as a Catholic school administrator.

    1. Not at all, dsimmons. They are most certainly NOT the same, and I am 100% confident about that.

      The Rhythm Method is (was) a purely calendar-based method of predicting fertility which assumed every woman had a consistent, 28-day cycle (which is clearly not the case). In contrast, modern NFP uses multiple signs from a woman’s body (predominantly body temperature and cervical mucus) to reliably assess where she’s at in her fertility cycle regardless of the length or variations of her cycles. NFP is proven reliable by extensive medical research, and it is most certainly NOT the Rhythm Method practiced in the 1970’s.

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