As the divorce rate in society climbs to record heights, couples are looking for ways to strengthen their marriages. Starting Natural Family Planning (NFP) can be the best decision for any couple looking for mutual respect, better communication and opening themselves to God’s love.
NFP allows both husband and wife to be equal partners in family planning. NFP is 99 percent effective in avoiding pregnancy and follows Catholic teaching by using no artificial contraception. Couples have sexual intercourse during the woman’s non-fertile days of her menstrual cycle until they are ready to have children. Individuals using NFP are often more open to having more children than originally intended, because God’s love has entered their hearts and given them a new perspective toward family planning.
Carol and Dave Armitage, supporters of both NFP and the Couple to Couple League, an organization that teaches NFP, have been sharing their story in the Eastern Region. The Armitages had their first son in 1977 and three months later, conceived again. Carol said she was unhappy about having another pregnancy so soon after their first child. So they decided to use contraception, using both condoms and the birth control pill. The practice caused anxiety in their physical relationship.
“Then we were asked to be part of the marriage prep program in our parish. So we said ‘yes,’” Carol said. “Then I began to read the other booklet the Sister at our parish had given us. It was Humanae Vitae. This was Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on the regulation of births. I read some of it and began to cry, finished it and cried some more. The truth of what we had done by contracepting hit me. I went downstairs to my husband and told him, ‘We can’t do this anymore.’ He said, ‘I know.’”
The Armitages found NFP that same weekend and it changed their lives, as it has for many other married couples.
“We took the NFP course and learned so much. I was amazed at the intricate details of how my body worked. With charting, I could see my fertile days and non-fertile days right before my eyes. Dave and I gained a new respect for each other as husband and wife. We began to talk more about important things — goals, dreams, family and especially our faith,” Carol said. “I felt more loved by my husband, especially during the days of abstinence. Sex became holy and I understood that the Catholic Church is not afraid of sex or thinks that sex is bad, but the church is in awe of sex because it is holy and beautiful and is the vehicle that transmits life, which is the greatest gift.”
In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed Himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing that she might be holy and without blemish.” This image of Christ’s love for the church is one many Catholics refer to when speaking about chastity and abstinence before marriage, but it is very appropriate for married couples. In this light, husbands patiently wait for their wives, making the sexual intimacy of marriage more fully shared, without barriers of contraception.
Terry and Lisa Carguello, parishioners of St. Ann’s Church in Manlius, were another couple introduced to NFP until they had started their family. Lisa said she found out about NFP in Pennsylvania while talking to a person associated with the La Leche League. After learning about NFP, the Carguellos experienced a rejuvenation of their marriage and a strengthening of their faith.
“NFP changes your whole marriage. I’m so impressed with the church’s teaching,” Lisa said. “Looking back, NFP was an optional section of Engaged Encounter. I really wish we had started our marriage with it.”
Lisa said in promoting NFP, she finds some people are reluctant to try but once they hear the success stories and the positive results, couples are more receptive.
“It’s a hard sell sometimes. People have been taught something different for so long by society,” Lisa said. “We have given talks to engaged couples and you would think that those couples would come running up saying, ‘Thank you for telling me about this,’ but it’s not like that. It does take time.” Lisa said many women who use contraception can be frustrated when they are unable to conceive when they want to. Some couples seek help for infertility when they could find understanding in NFP. NFP provides a greater biological understanding of the female body and an appreciation for the cycle of life that starts anew each month.
“It’s not an infertility issue; it’s a health awareness issue,” Lisa said. “NFP should be the first place people start.”
Society has trained couples to use contraception to achieve the pleasure of sex without the consequences of pregnancy. When procreation ceases to be the goal, or at least a possibility, sex no longer is used as God intended, many NFP supporters stress. This “feel good” view of sexuality in marriage can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s spouse making divorce as a more likely possibility. “Couples who contracept may think they have a good marriage, like we did, but, we believe they will never have a great marriage because sexual intercourse cannot be separated from being open to life,” Carol said.
Terry explained how NFP has opened a whole new world of intimacy and dialogue that might have otherwise not occurred using contraception.
“The more you use NFP, the more in tune both people are with their bodies. NFP is not the rhythm method. It’s just as effective as the pill,” Terry said. “It’s the responsibility for both of us to talk to each other and communicate. I’m glad we are doing it and I wish we had done it before. It’s been tremendous for us and we have a strong marriage because of it.”
Bishop James Moynihan has made NFP promotion a priority in the Syracuse Diocese. The bishop has held meetings with the hope of expanding NFP promotion and education across the diocese. Both Terry and Lisa said Bishop Moynihan’s efforts toward greater NFP awareness is wonderful.
“I commend Bishop Moynihan for taking the lead on this topic,” Terry said. “More bishops could emphasize it in their dioceses.”
A scientific survey conducted in 2000 under the direction of Dr. Robert Lerner of the University of Chicago revealed some of the best evidence of the power of NFP. The survey, which also compared two other government studies on the topic, showed couples who used NFP have a 0.2 percent divorce rate, attend church more often and have happier, stronger marriages.
Lisa spoke at one of the bishop’s NFP meetings and said she is excited about the diocesan push to make NFP more a part of marriage preparation. She said she hopes more couples will receive NFP education before their marriage.
“NFP is so amazing. It’s one way God pours His grace over your marriage,” she said.