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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

5 Ways NFP Has Benefited our Marriage

We’ve been practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP) over the course of our 20+ years of being married and are big fans. NFP is a way to cooperate with our bodies and God to engage our sexuality and plan a family.

NFP has been a gift in our marriage, and at the same time, it has taken effort. It’s somewhat like eating heathfully or adopting fitness — it asks something of us. But so what? Who’s afraid of a little effort? We’ve found that what it costs comes back to us several times over. Here are five ways in which we’ve discovered NFP to be rewarding.

1. It’s an effective way to delay and achieve pregnancy.

We have three kids and there’s a five-year gap between the oldest and middle boys — that period of time fell in the years we were in graduate school. So, we’re proof that NFP works to delay pregnancy. When it’s used by a couple who has been trained and is committed to it, NFP is proven and effective.

But we also know couples who have used NFP to achieve pregnancy, too. It can be especially helpful for those struggling with fertility challenges because it can help diagnose a cause. It’s all about cooperating with your body — reading the signs and being on the same page as a couple about what’s right for your family.

2. It’s a great way to learn about each other’s bodies.

As a product of public high school, I had a pretty standard education in sexuality. Heading into marriage, I’d say I had the fundamentals. But going through NFP training with Stacey opened my eyes to the whole new world of the female anatomy and reproductive system. Honestly, it was fascinating to learn about the rhythm of her cycle — the way her body changes throughout the month.

And NFP has afforded me room to (gently) contextualize Stacey’s emotions if they seem to be particularly strong or coming out of left field. Sometimes, it helps to suggest that she might be experiencing intense feelings because of where she’s at in her cycle (then again, sometimes it’s just because she’s a passionate person!). Often that suggestion is not a surprise to her because of our tracking and communication. But more often, I just make a note to myself — the understanding helps me see the bigger picture and perhaps offer a little more patience.

3. It fosters good communication habits.

To do NFP well, you have to get comfortable talking about uncomfortable things. That was a bridge we both had to cross, but getting practiced at talking about that part of marital life has helped us remove other taboos.

In addition, NFP asks us to always have before us the deepest questions of our shared life together: Are we open to welcoming new life to our family now? Should we be? What might God be inviting us to?

It’s not uncommon for one of us to be brushing our teeth at night and to raise one of these questions. Or after pondering that question throughout the day, we’ll offer an insight on our drive home from work.

4. It encourages good discernment.

Discernment is the spiritual practice of searching for God’s will for our lives through self-reflection to detect the ways God is speaking to us. God’s voice comes to us in small, still ways — in quiet and prayer, for sure, but also in the gifts we’ve been given and in the circumstances that shape our experience. It takes attentiveness to tune into the deepest desires of our hearts and discover what is really true about them.

Having those deepest questions about our married and family life always before us has gotten us into the practice of reading “the signs of the times.” How are we feeling stretched in family life? Where can we be generous in bringing life to others — either by growing our family or by supporting those in need? What can we handle? What can we offer?

That’s a good place for a Christian to be — keeping our eyes open for where God might be leading us.

5. The discipline it takes to practice NFP has made us stronger — together.

Getting into a rhythm of exercise or applying yourself to develop any new craft requires discipline. That discipline builds skill and trains the body’s capacities, and it also has benefits for your interior life. You learn to be attentive or to control your impulses or to see the world differently. That’s what NFP has done for us.

It’s a discipline that has born real fruit in our relationship. It forces us to stay in tune with one another, both physically and emotionally. It encourages us to find new and different ways to express our love for one another — it’s healthy that we find ways to build intimacy beyond what we do in the bedroom.

And that sense of togetherness has perhaps been the biggest benefit of NFP. The gift of fertility is not something we receive and exercise alone, by ourselves. By definition, fertility is a shared gift — it only exists between two people.

So often, I see men ceding their half of that gift to their spouse. The female body is her area of responsibility, and a lot of men only interact with that area of marital life when a sexual encounter is imminent. NFP invites couples to share that responsibility together — it’s a way to live “as one flesh,” as the good book says.

I’m so grateful for the practice of NFP in our marriage because it’s helped us share the gift of fertility fully between us. I know just as much about Stacey’s body as she does — often more, in fact, because I’ve taken on the task of charting her symptoms.

Practicing NFP has helped us find and keep that feeling of togetherness that is the bedrock of marriage — it hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth the effort.