When you can’t agree on NFP

By Dr. Greg Popcak

“I’ve gotten serious about my faith in the last year or so. I’ve done a lot of reading and God really opened my eyes about how natural family planning is the way to go. The problem is my husband is absolutely, completely, 100 percent against it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t think the time is right for more children, but I can’t bring myself to contracept. But my husband says he’s rather never have sex again than trust NFP. What do I do?”

My wife Lisa and I get calls exactly like this on our radio program almost every day. In fact, a surprising number of husbands callus to say that it is the wife who is the reluctant partner. But whoever plays the role of the hold-out in your home, the question is the same: How do you maintain your integrity while respecting that your spouse is at a different stage in his or her faith journey?

This is a sticky question, and since there are so many variations on the theme, here are five general guidelines to help you figure out the best way through this problem in your marriage.

1. Don’t go it alone
There are so many different objections spouses can offer and so many different responses you should or should not make based upon your unique circumstances, that it is essential to enlist good pastoral guidance. I would strongly encourage you to talk on a regular basis with your pastor, your teaching couple, the good people at CCL, or a pastoral counselor familiar with the unique concerns of NFP couples.

So how do you know how serious your situation is? Think of it this way. While some degree of questioning is perfectly natural when a spouse suddenly announces, “Guess what, honey, I’ve signed up for an NFP class!”, if your spouse digs in and fights you tooth and nail, this is really not an NFP problem so much as it is a marriage problem touching on deep issues of respect, communication and spirituality. Because these are such hot button issues, it is very important to get competent counsel to know how to respond charitably and sanely. Don’t be too proud to ask for help early in this process.

2. Be assertive
Every time I am asked to address this question, I ask the person, “Have you and your spouse signed up for an NFP course?” Over and over again, the answer is, “No.” He/She says that (s)he won’t go.”
Here is my advice. Don’t ask permission. Sign up for the course, and tell your spouse when it is. Don’t give your spouse a chance to say no. You are working for the good of your marriage, for the good of your mate’s soul. Don’t be afraid to push a little. Of course, if they lock themselves in the bathroom and barricade the door for the day of your class, then I am not suggesting that you make them go (although if your mate is really that immature, then you really do need to be in marital counseling, as of yesterday). But make it clear that short of such histrionics, your mate is expected to be there. If you want to be taken seriously, then you must let your mate know that you are deadly serious about this.

3. Do this in love
This is key. At the same time that you are being assertive, it is your obligation to turn up the (non-sexual) love in your marriage – exponentially.
Think of those 1,000 or so (non-sexual) things your spouse has asked you to do for him or her but you have been dragging your feet about. Do them today. Furthermore, promise yourself and God right now that you are going to commit to doing these things every day for the rest of your life whether or not your spouse ever changes. Why? Two reasons.

First, if you are inviting your mate to express the kind of generosity that NFP requires without being willing to model that same generosity in every area of your marriage, then you are a hypocrite. You have no credibility. Zero. Too many spouses sit in their own marital sloth complaining about their stubborn mate, when they themselves aren’t lifting a finger to love as God calls them to love. Don’t let this be you, because this is the sin of spiritual pride, and pride is the deadliest of the deadly sins.

Second, your spouse needs to understand that your desire to do NFP is not coming from your recent discovery of some obscure (and bizarre) set of rules invented by celibate men on some far-off planet. Your spouse must understand that your desire to use NFP is motivated by your sincere desire to love him or her even better than you already do. To establish this context, you must be loving in every way you can even while insisting on NFP. Mind you, I am not suggesting that you try to “buy” or manipulate your spouse’s agreement. Rather, I am asserting that the only godly way to motivate a conversion to the truth is through love. You can win over their heart through your genuinely loving example. Realize this: You may not browbeat your mate into NFP submission and expect to get any marital or spiritual “points” for this kind of behavior. You might as well pat yourself on the back for baptizing your neighbors at gunpoint. Catholic moral teaching tells us that it is never acceptable to attempt to accomplish a good goal (even a goal as good as NFP compliance) using evil means.
Now do you see why I want you to seek counsel?

4. Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray
Did I mention that you should be giving this problem to God every single day? I am constantly amazed by the people who offer stunned silence when I ask them, “So, are you praying about this?”
Look, make no mistake. The acceptance of NFP in marriage is about nothing if not conversion. It is the Holy Spirit, not you, that effects that conversion. If you ain’t prayin’, then conversion ain’t happ’nin.

The bottom line is that you can do this. In fact, I help couples make this transition every day. But the generosity required by this transition doesn’t come naturally or easily. Even so, if, by God’s grace and your commitment to cooperating with that grace, you are able to make this shift in your marriage, then you will not be sorry. Indeed, you’ll be happier than ever because you will not just be slavishly “doing NFP;” you will be living in the generous, intimate partnership to which NFP calls you.

Together with his wife Lisa, Dr. Greg Popcak hosts More2Life Radio airing on 30 stations across the US. They are the authors of many books and programs including the recently released, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving & Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage. They invite you to contact them for tele-counseling and other resources at www.CatholicCounselors.com.