Evidence That NFP Is Good For Marriage?

By Mike Manhart, MD


Dancing couple NFP Good for Marriage

I’d wager that every couple believes and hopes their wedding day is the first day of a lifelong relationship. Today however, one out of every two adults encounter divorce in their family or of a close relative. I suspect many see a lifelong marriage as more an unrealistic ideal rather than a reasonable expectation to commit to.

My personal experience in remembering to make the daily decision to be married and committed to my spouse has helped us turn each day into an unending string of days that now is somewhere north of 42 years.  Our discovery of NFP helped us live our marriage as God intended it as an exclusive, stable, indissoluble union. A union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children.

Evidence for NFP

As a scientist, I train to be skeptical of anecdotal claims (like the one above). I look for more objective evidence to support any claim.  The published scientific literature supports the idea that NFP is good for your marriage. Significantly, recent large-scale studies highlight how use of contraception in marriage can put a couple at increased risk of divorce.

So, what is the evidence that NFP is good for marriage?  First, CCL has been surveying couples in our classes for several years.  I recently summarized1 the feedback from over 10,000 student couples collected from 2016 to 2022. Not surprisingly, 98% felt they had a better understanding of their fertility after taking the class.  Importantly, 97% felt having taken the NFP class will be beneficial to their marriage.  Stated differently, even though more than 8 in 10 couples coming to CCL NFP classes did so as a requirement, just 3% felt learning NFP would not be beneficial to their marriage.

NFP Benefits Marriage

The Skeptic will respond to this by asking “Ok, but what about after the honeymoon, when the reality of living together as husband and wife sets in?”  A 2013 survey2 of NFP users in the US and 6 European countries showed the perceived benefit persists.  The 2500+ persons studied had used NFP for an average of 8.5 years, ranging from 1yr to 35 years. 65% of women and 74% of men felt using NFP benefited their marriage. Just 9% felt it had not helped their marriage. 

A separate 2018 study3 surveyed 69 couples were using NFP and compared them to 69 couples using contraception. They employed an instrument called the Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS) that measures the quality of a relationship.  The researchers found while both the NFP and contracepting couples had DAS scores in the “functional range” (they had good quality relationships), the NFP users scored significantly higher than those using contraception. Furthermore, they concluded that for every month of continued NFP use the DAS score improved 1%.

NFP Use = Lower Divorce Rate

Dr Richard Fehring and I published a 2023 study4 exploring the odds of divorce in association with choice of family planning method.  This study used a representative sample (n= 5,403) of the US population of ever-married women extracted from the National Survey of Family Growth.  The NSFG is a periodic survey conducted by the CDC. It is the definitive tool to understand family planning habits and practices among Americans.  The results are striking; overall divorce rates for women who had ever-used (that is currently or in the past) hormonal contraceptives, used barriers, or were sterilized ranged from 20-30%, whereas those who had ever-used NFP were significantly lower – 12-15%, depending on the type of NFP used.

A Deeper Study

A deeper analysis showed those who had ever used barriers or had a husband with a vasectomy were double (i.e., 200%) the risk of divorce compared to those who never used these methods; those who used the pill were at 53% increased risk; women with tubal ligations were at a 27% increased risk; while those who had used NFP were at 34% lower risk of divorce. Notably, no women who were currently using NFP were divorced in this sample.

Using NFP in your marriage won’t guarantee you won’t get a divorce, and it’s not always easy – but what in life worth having that doesn’t take some effort & sacrifice?  But with evidence from the science, we can say using NFP does help your relationship, may lead to a lifelong marriage, and using popular contraceptives can increase the odds of divorce.


References:

  1. Manhart, MD “Teaching NFP to couples as a requirement for marriage prep is effective and can be delivered via different learning modes; evidence from a post-class survey administered 2016-2022.” Submitted. 2024 European Congress on Fertility Awareness Methods.
  2. Unseld, M., Rötzer, E., Weigl, R., Masel, E. K., & Manhart, M. D. (2017). Use of natural family planning (NFP) and its effect on couple relationships and sexual satisfaction: A multi-country survey of NFP users from US and Europe. Front Public Health, 13(42). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2017.00042  
  3. Barroilhet, S., Sen˜oret, C., Mallea, X., Fritsch, R., Vohringer, P., & Arraztoa, J. A. (2018). Marital functioning in couples practicing periodic abstinence for family planning. The Linacre Quarterly, 85(2), 16–155. https://doi.org/10.1177/0024363918764950  
  4. Michael D. Manhart & Richard J. Fehring (2023): The Association of Family Planning Methods With the Odds of Divorce Among Women in the 2015–2019 National Survey of Family Growth, Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, DOI: 10.1080/10502556.2023.2179837

This article was originally published in Family Foundations magazine.