From the Family Foundations archives
Dr. Gregory J. Popcak
Who doesn’t want more ways to live a healthier, more joyful life? Couples who practice Natural Family Planning have even more reasons to celebrate their desire to live lives that are faithful to the Church because NFP isn’t just good, it’s good for you. Of course, most NFP couples know that natural family planning offers many benefits to women’s physical health but it turns out it’s also good for you emotionally, relationally and spiritually, too.
An obvious way NFP benefits a woman’s emotional health is by giving her the tools to anticipate days when she might be more sensitive to stress because of hormonal changes in her cycle. Especially for women who tend toward PMS or are sensitive to their hormonal changes, it can be frustrating to schedule big plans on days when they are fertile and filled with energy, only to have to follow through on those plans to do the spring cleaning, host that dinner party, or go on that trip when they are at their worst only a couple weeks later. Women who know their bodies, thanks to NFP, know that it’s much better to make plans for those bigger projects and activities when they are feeling more drained and then have to follow-up when they are feeling their healthiest. Following this counter-intuitive approach to planning can help a woman feel more successful as she can accomplish more, and more enjoyably, when she is feeling her best.
NFP can also help a woman anticipate times when she might need more quiet, order, or peace; times when she is more sensitive to noise and chaos. Knowing this in advance helps her plan activities for the kids that are easier to manage and helps her husband know to be a little more sensitive and solicitous on the days she may most likely need a little more support.
Finally, among my clients who use NFP, it genuinely helps to know the difference between depression and normal, Phase III blues. For those clients who don’t use NFP, I often recommend learning it so that they can become acquainted with the normal shifts in mood that accompany hormonal shifts. This way, they can avoid the panic that often comes when a client feels they are regressing for no good reason. Knowing that a negative mood change is more likely to occur when she is transitioning from one phase to the next (and particularly from Phase III to Phase I) can help her take the momentary emotional “setback” in stride.
There are two ways that NFP can facilitate relational health. The first I already alluded to above. When a husband knows his wife’s signs, he can anticipate those times when she might need a little more emotional support and when he might need to guard against taking his wife’s moods too personally. While a husband should never dismiss his wife’s emotions, it is easier to be supportive when you know that your wife’s reactions don’t have as much to do with you as they do with her physical state. This can not only lead to fewer arguments, it can actually contribute to better marital rapport as the wife feels genuinely understood and cared for by her husband and her husband feels empowered to respond effectively to his wife’s needs.
Secondly, couples benefit from the increased communication that comes from NFP. Research by the Gottmann Institute shows that couples who discuss their shared values, dreams and goals on a regular basis exhibit more satisfaction with their relationship than couples who don’t have such conversations. NFP couples are regularly invited to discuss how their values and beliefs apply to their dreams and goals for their family and their lives together. It’s true that NFP doesn’t automatically make these conversations happen, but it certainly makes them harder to avoid. NFP couples don’t have the luxury of putting off big conversations for “a more convenient” time. Every month, they are discerning and discussing the big questions about the direction and size of their family and what they believe God is calling them to in prayer. Accepting this invitation to deeper communication can only serve to help the couple know each other inside and out and enjoy the closeness that accompanies such intimate knowledge of each other.
The third way NFP can contribute to marital health is something I discuss in my book Holy Sex!. Men often complain that their wives seem rather fickle when it comes to preferences in the bedroom. Something that feels good one day can be a complete turn-off the next. Men who are active in helping their wives chart understand that a woman’s changing physiology from phase to phase is what is determining what feels good on a given day and how easily her body responds. She is not being difficult. Her body is changing from day to day. A couple that is aware of how a woman’s body changes from phase to phase of her cycle will be a couple that can communicate more effectively about their physical relationship and achieve greater intimacy with less clumsiness.
NFP couples benefit spiritually from the graces they receive from faithfully living out the Catholic vision of love, but there is another spiritual benefit couples receive: specifically, they are more aware than other couples of the need to pray together.
It is certainly possible for couples to use NFP as some soulless technique, but those couples miss an incredible opportunity. NFP offers an invitation to couples to take the information they are getting from their charting to prayer so that they may more perfectly discern God’s will for their lives. The spiritual walk is one of surrender. Bringing every aspect of our lives, even our bodies, to God in joyful surrender to his will allows couples to experience an incredible infusion of God’s grace and love. God called each husband and wife together and he asks us to draw nearer to him so that he can teach us how to love one another. The more of ourselves we bring to him, the more easily he can instruct us in living out his vision of love.
Certainly NFP requires sacrifices, but so do diet, exercise, and many other forms of self-discipline that ultimately help us become happier and healthier people.
Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of over a dozen books including Holy Sex! He is the director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization providing Catholic counseling by telephone to couples, families and individuals. He invites you to contact him at 740-266-6461 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CCL’s award-winning Family Foundations is the only NFP magazine in the United States and is a great source of support. Visit here to learn more.