Q: NFP is great, but abstinence is difficult! How can we stay close to each other during those times when we’re apart?
A: Abstinence can be tough, but together couples can make this a time of growth and unity. Start with the Big C: Communication. Talk about your expectations prior to the abstinence period. Make sure you’re both on the same page. Take full advantage of days right before the fertile time – this may ease tension during the first few days apart. When abstaining, think about how your actions affect your spouse: if you know he can’t resist you in that lingerie, consider keeping it for the honeymoon season (more on this below). Do not touch your spouse in ways that will lead to arousal – it’ll make it that much more difficult to abstain. While you don’t have to stay an arms-length away for each other, think about how your physical affection influences your spouse. Is this really loving him/her or is this just making it more difficult? Similarly, drink alcohol in moderation – while you can both relax over a good glass of wine, don’t let it impair your judgment, thereby making the situation that much more challenging.
Q: That’s great advice, but it’s still challenging. What can couples do when abstinence seems overwhelming?
A: There’s no getting around it – at some point or other most every couple will have a challenging period of abstinence. Be encouraged though by these words of Pope Paul VI from Humanae Vitea.
We do not at all intend to hide the sometimes serious difficulties inherent in the life of Christian husbands and wives; for them as for everyone else, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life.” But hope in that life must illumine their way, as with courage they strive to live with wisdom, justice and piety in the present time, knowing that the form of this world passes away.
The times of greatest struggle are often the times that build the most solid foundations in our faith. Have you ever wanted to strengthen your spiritual life? Here’s your chance! Abstinence makes you rely on God. Only He can give you the strength to truly love your spouse and make the sacrifice. Remember in sports terms, the best defense is a good offense – invest in your faith during the times of abstinence and you will find the strength to not only survive the days apart, but to thrive in all aspects of your marriage.
Q: Ok, I get the idea of having a strong offense, but practically speaking what does that look like?
A: A strong offense in abstinence has two parts: (1) build your relationship with God, (2) build your relationship with your spouse. Start by giving God some dedicated time. God strengthens us through grace, which He provides in the sacraments. Use your time of abstinence to build your relationship with Christ. Try going to weekday Mass together as a couple and monthly Confession. On days of abstinence, gather strength by visiting our LORD in Adoration, praying the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy, learning about the lives of the saints (there are some amazing married saints who surmounted huge challenges by God’s grace). During those days when you are intimate, consider fasting from something else (i.e. chocolate or TV); this way you develop good discipline and can switch fasts when abstaining again sexually. Once more, let the words of Pope Paul VI encourage you:
Let married couples, then, face up to the efforts needed, supported by faith and by hope that “does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Let them implore divine assistance by persevering prayer; let them draw grace and charity above all from that inexhaustible font which is the Eucharist.
As you draw closer to Christ, realize that He also wants you to draw closer to your spouse, even during times of abstinence. Try fun activities that you used to do when you were dating (and had to abstain 24/7): go out for ice cream, go see a movie, go for a walk, cook new foods together (get creative), surprise your wife with flowers and a card, surprise your husband with tickets to the game or pizza and a movie HE would like. Consider going on a Marriage Encounters Retreat to learn how to communicate in a new and exciting way. (Marriage Encounter)
Why not take up a new sport together? This can make a huge difference in the physical tension level especially for the guys: volleyball, tennis, rollerblading, rock climbing. Try to keep this activity special for the times of abstinence so that it can be something you look forward to. Bottom line, spend quality time together enriching your relationship – it will make the honeymoon season all the more special.
Q: What do you mean by honeymoon season? What does that have to do with abstinence?
A: Some people think that the Church looks down on sex. Nothing could be further from the Truth! The Church has a profound respect for the couples sexual union and encourages them to drink deeply of this time together. In Scripture we read, “I belong to my lover and for me he yearns. Let us go early to the vineyards . . . there will I give you my love” (Songs of Songs 8:11-13). One of the beauties of NFP is that each cycle has a built in mini-honeymoon. Couples have a season of abstinence true, but they also have a great season together! Having a difficult time abstaining? Try making more use of the honeymoon times. Plan a trip, a special date or simply unplug the phone on your nights together. Making the most use of the honeymoon season will make abstinence a lot more bearable.
Q: I’ve noticed that my wife seems the most eager to make love when she’s fertile, but then tends to feel more tired and less “into it” during our supposed honeymoon period. This doesn’t seem fair.
A: If you’ve sat through an NFP class, you’ve seen some of the crazy ups and downs that go on with women’s hormones. Some nights it may seem like a real cocktail for exhaustion especially if she’s been running around after young kids all day. Start by sharing your feelings with her in a loving way; make sure you don’t come off as accusing. Rather than putting the blame on her, ask her how you can help so that she wont be so tired (i.e. why don’t I wash the dishes or put the kids to bed, while you go take a bath?). Then, be ready to make good on that offer! To the wives (or exhausted husbands) – realize that a true gift of self can come when you feel the least ready to give. Pray for grace and remember the “people over things” rule: making a complete gift of self to your spouse may have a more long-lasting effect on your marriage than getting one more load of dishes or one last email in before the day is through. While abstinence builds virtue, delighting in the good gifts of the honeymoon period is equally valuable to building a happy marriage.
Q: My husband is supportive of NFP, but I have the hardest time getting him to chart. How do we keep up?
A:NFP was never designed to be a solo-activity. When a couple is seriously looking to postpone or achieve a pregnancy, charting is integral to figuring out what part of the cycle you are in. Remember that “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones” (Luke 16:10). Hold each other accountable and realize that it takes BOTH of you to make this work. Make sure that you review the rules regularly and that you always have extra charts on hand (don’t wait till you’re on the last day to order a new chart). Above all, believe that what you have learned works. The LORD has given NFP as a gift to you. Trust Him – He knows what He is doing.