Natural Family Planning and the Gift of Self
Many Catholic couples of childbearing age adhere to the Church’s teaching on the prohibition of artificial contraceptives and practice Natural Family Planning. Even non-Catholic couples who are concerned about putting artificial chemicals or unnecessary hormones into their bodies practice the “green and sustainable” methods found in Natural Family Planning strategies.
While Natural Family Planning is beautiful, effective, and brings many couples closer together over time, it does not always come without challenges. I am not an expert in NFP and I cannot, nor would I try, to coach or counsel couples on the particulars of any method of NFP. I am Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist however, and I can help couples through some of the relational challenges that may arise in the process of building emotional intimacy, which is inevitable, if they are faithfully adhering to NFP.
If a couple has prayerfully discerned that they do not want to get pregnant at a particular time they abstain from marital relations during the fertile time of the wife’s cycle. Pregnancy may be delayed for a short time or for a longer period. For many couples these periods of voluntary abstinence over time, contribute to the growth and deepening of emotional intimacy. This is a beautiful and nearly inevitable outcome of the long term practice of NFP.
Some couples navigate this process of growing and deepening emotional intimacy with prayer, commitment to one another and the process, the support of others who understand the challenges, reception of the sacraments, and a clear understanding of the Church’s teaching on marriage and St. John Paul II’s teachings on the Theology of the Body.
Other couples, for a variety of reasons, may struggle through this process more. Every couple has relational conflicts and difficulties unrelated to NFP, even those who take to NFP easily. For couples for whom NFP comes as more of an uphill path the conflicts and difficulties can feel multiplied, especially if they are abstaining from the marital act. There are many reasons for this but one is that the marital act can help couples feel close; it has a unitive purpose along with its procreative purpose. Sometimes prior to the emotional intimacy growing stronger it is the physical intimacy that couples lean on for those feelings of connection. If that is unavailable couples might feel disconnected, which always leads to more conflict and difficulty.
There is a marital therapy called Emotionally Focused Therapy that focuses on helping couples address their emotional disconnections and insecurities. It does so by helping couples recognize their negative cycles (these cycles manifest in conflict), stopping their negative cycles, learning about their emotional needs and fears that underlie their cycle (which come from attachment insecurities or wounds), healing those attachment insecurities and wounds together, and learning new says of being that are based on being deeply, emotionally connected, attached, and intimate.
NFP and EFT can be a powerful combination for any couple, but particularly effective for Catholic couples who may be struggling a little bit but desire to remain faithful to the teachings of the Church. Ultimately, these couples desire to give the total gift of self, including the gift of their deepest emotional selves; NFP and EFT can assist in that self donation.
If you would like to discuss how Emotionally Focused Therapy can assist you and your spouse in growing your gifts of self, please call me today!