"Abstinence can be tough, but it has brought us closer together than we thought possible. We work on our relationship, not from the exclusive angle of sex, but on the whole picture of being married. Because of this, sex has become a gift we give each other, and not a chore or an obligation." —Matt
A total lifestyle change that changed us
Matt: We met in college during my sophomore year, and Shannon’s freshman year. We were friends for a few months, casually hanging out a lot as we got to know each other. Then when we started dating, our relationship became quite serious within a matter of days. At that point, we were both living a pretty secular lifestyle. Even though I was raised Catholic in a conservative home, I was not actively practicing at the time. I assumed Shannon was taking care of birth control, since she was a responsible young woman in college, and I never bothered to ask about it.
Shannon: I was raised in a pretty secular environment without much parental guidance on matters of sexuality. By my late teens I had bought into the popular mentality that everyone has sex, and that contraception was the responsible thing to do. I started taking the pill a few weeks before we started dating – just in case.
I was a typical young pill user. I didn’t take it at the same time every day, sometimes even missing one day and doubling up the next day. But I felt like I was still covered. It was assumed that I was taking care of all the birth control responsibility. We never really even talked about until several months after we started dating.
Less than a year later I found out I was pregnant, despite being on the pill. I prepared myself to be a single mom in college, because I didn’t know where Matt and I would end up after this.
Matt: I, meanwhile, was speechless. After all, Shannon was taking care of it, being responsible and on the pill. This wasn’t supposed to happen if a couple was using contraception! The next several months were a whirlwind of self-discovery. By the grace of God we came to realize how much we loved each other, and we decided that marriage before our baby was born was our best option. Our daughter was born two months after our wedding.
We both believed we should not get pregnant again for a while. I begged Shannon to not go back on the pill, and we decided to use condoms. Right away this led to problems with our marital intimacy. It felt to me like sex was forced and artificial, but we both felt an obligation to have relations as often as we could to keep our marriage fresh and alive. In reality, sex had become a chore we had to gear up to perform.
Shannon: It was tough navigating being married at 20 with a baby and going to college. I felt little intimacy. We didn’t talk about it, and felt disconnected when we were together. I started to feel like sex was part of my wifely duty. After 15 months, and still both in college, we found out I was pregnant with our second child. Our communication and intimacy totally shut down. Being “safe” was supposed to have been Matt’s responsibility this time, and I was not ready to be pregnant again. We were not in a good place, and I was ready to walk. It looked we were on our way to becoming another divorce statistic.
Then, Matt picked up a book on Catholic marriage. He read it alone at first, but kept leaving it around the house for me to find. Soon we had both read it, and it changed the way we viewed our marriage. For the first time, we were exposed to what marriage was really supposed to be like. We learned that it is a journey through life together, and not all about sex and gooey feelings of love. Up to that point, we had no idea what marriage really was. We also read a thing or two about NFP, but the connection with our own struggles didn’t register yet.
Matt: We spent the rest of the second pregnancy really working on our marriage. Shannon then had her second C-section in two years, and was warned to not get pregnant again any time soon. We had had one pregnancy through failed chemical birth control, and one through failed barrier birth control. We knew we had to do something better.
I looked into NFP a little more, even bringing home some pamphlets for Shannon to read. She was very resistant to the idea at first. She believed the popular line that all NFP families have at least 10 kids, and with her irregular cycles she stood no chance of postponing pregnancy. But after a few months, she started reading the pamphlets. Something finally struck a chord with her and opened her heart, as well as mine, and we signed up for an NFP class. It turned out to be the best decision we ever made.
In class, we learned that our objections were based on myths. The Sympto-Thermal Method was based on scientific observations, and NFP allows couples to both postpone and achieve pregnancy. So, the families with 10 kids were likely planned because of the couples’ openness to life.
Shannon: And we were very relieved to learn that my irregular cycles would not prevent us from practicing successfully. Because of the charting I actually found out that my crazy, irregular cycles could be improved through nutrition and stress management.
I really struggled for the first year with charting, so Matt took the reins and was in charge of getting my temperature, recording signs and interpreting the chart. He still does it today! For the first time, we were a team when it came to our fertility. Because of this, communication opened up in every aspect of our lives. Nothing was assumed anymore, and nothing was only one spouse’s responsibility. This helped us both feel more secure, as we made all of our important decisions together.
Matt: Our greatest challenge was accepting and living out abstinence. The idea was so foreign to our contraceptive mindset that it did take a change of heart over the course of a few months to fully accept marital chastity. Abstinence can be tough, but it has brought us closer together than we thought possible. We work on our relationship, not from the exclusive angle of sex, but on the whole picture of being married. Because of this, sex has become a gift we give each other, and not a chore or an obligation. Intimacy is about quality, not quantity.
Shannon: For six years, as I finished my degree and life’s challenges were hurled one after another at us, we practiced NFP successfully to postpone pregnancy. I even converted to Catholicism during that time! Our marriage had blossomed in ways we never thought possible. Then we began hearing that tiny voice of God telling us that we no longer had just reasons to postpone pregnancy, so we put away the charts. Three months later, blessing number 3 was on the way! This time there was no blame or failure; there was nothing but total joy and excitement!
Matt: Starting with NFP was a total lifestyle change. It changed the way we viewed our sexuality, our marriage, each other, our children, our goals, and nearly every other aspect of life. This has taken us from the brink of just being another divorce statistic to having a marriage that keeps getting better, stronger, and more joyful. But the biggest gift has been trust. We no longer have to trust a chemical to control Shannon’s fertility, nor do we have to trust in artificial gear to keep us “safe.” Instead, we’ve come to trust in each other, from reading Shannon’s signs of fertility together, to making informed decisions about abstinence together. Most important of all, we’ve come to trust each other in every decision we make in all aspects of our life.