Marital Friendship, Romance, Intimacy and Faith

“Authentic married love is caught up into divine love,”  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1639.

This chapter will present information on the marital friendship, romantic love and sexuality in marriage from John Paul II's important book, Love and Responsibility, Pope Benedict XVI's writings and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Also, we will describe the psychological and personality conflicts which damage marital love and sexual intimacy and their resolution.  Also, the serious medical risks and psychological risks associated with the use of hormonal contraceptives will be presented. 

Love and Responsibility

John Paul II’s Love and Responsibility, Theology of the Body and Letter to Families can assist couples in understanding the nature of self-giving love they are called to in regard to romantic love, friendship, and betrothed love/intimacy in their sacrament of marriage.   Dr. Janet Smith believes that Love and Responsibility should be recognized as one of the great books of Western civilization along with Homer's Iliad, Dante's Inferno and Augustine's ConfessionsEdward Sri's, Men, Women and the Mystery of Love: Practical Insights from John Paul II's Love and Responsibility, Servant Books, is an excellent book for families on this great work. Below are summarized major points about romantic love, friendship and betrothed love from the Vatican approved simplified version of Love and Responsibility.

Romantic Love

Romantic love happens. People succumb to it, allowing themselves to be drawn together before making any conscious choice. Their will is captured by emotions and sensations. With romance, love is at an emotional stage.

Romantic love

  • makes people feel very close to each other
  • is subjective, focused upon inner feelings and is based on emotion
  • is not the whole of love
  • is fickle and cannot, in a lasting way, determine a person’s attitude to another
  • is just a signal that friendship might be established
  • must be transformed into friendship
  • can be falsely seen as greater and more important than friendship
  • is essential for the development of friendship
  • falls one step short of friendship
  • creates the conditions needed for friendship to spring up and receive subjective expression

Friendship

Love’s most important element resides in the will which alone creates love. Therefore, romantic love must evolve into friendship. Here the will is decisive, always wanting good for the other and for oneself. When the two persons will their own good and the good of the other, they create a friendship which results in a true unification.

Friendship

  • is strongly founded upon the will
  • takes possession of the subject by a decisive choice for the other - its object is the other person
  • needs the emotional warmth supplied by romantic love or it becomes cold and incommunicable
  • brings about a sincere commitment based on objective values
  • takes time
  • is tested in many ways including by its degree of independence from romantic love
  • is a subjective love, but is chosen because of the objective value of the other person
  • is not confined to the emotions
  • has a distinctive feature of common sharing
  • can create a milieu of comradeship of common sharing, work or vision which prepares for the creation of an atmosphere needed for family life

There exists in love a particular responsibility - the responsibility for a person who is drawn into the closest possible partnership in the life and activity of another, and becomes in a sense the property of whoever benefits from this gift of self.

The greater the feeling of responsibility for the person the more true love there is.

Romantic love and friendship are two distinct processes, frequently going on at the same time. They interpenetrate and should not hinder each other. This is truly the "art of love". True love is the transformation of romantic love into friendship. The fundamental ethical characteristic of love is that it is an affirmation of the person or else it is not love at all.

The unification of the two persons must first be achieved by way of love, and sexual relations between them can only be the expression of a unification already complete.

Caution with romantic love

  • A mistake here is that people marry even when they have not established true friendship
  • When people lose the emotion of romantic love, they feel they are in a vacuum and believe that true love is over
  • The emotions of romantic love cannot replace this personal process of choice
  • Couples make the mistake of trusting romantic love, not using this opportunity to mold a true friendship
  • As a result, the end of romantic love becomes the end of love itself, a great defect in modern society
  • Can never accomplish true unification
  • True love does not consist primarily of a consuming romantic love (frequently accompanied by sexual relations)
  • May hide the need for true friendship resulting in failures in marriage

Pope Benedict wrote of the movement from romantic love to a deeper marital friendship in his first encyclical, God Is Love, Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking into the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: love becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even, willing to sacrifice,¡¨Deus Caritas Est, n. 6.

Betrothed Love

Love develops by attraction, desire and goodwill within the person and finds full realization in their interpersonal relationship. The true unification of persons takes place when the persons focus on the "we" instead of the "I." True love is, therefore, a synchronization of attraction, desire and goodwill.

Betrothed love, which is self-giving and surrenders the "I," goes out toward the other person to a far greater degree than love’s other forms. Betrothed love goes even beyond friendship. It doesn’t seek just the good of the other, but totally surrenders to the other. By this self-giving, both the subject and the interpersonal relationship are enriched. By betrothed love, the relationship becomes more than friendship.

The most uncompromising form of love consists precisely in self-giving, in making one's inalienable and non-transferable 'I' someone else's property.

In the order of love, a person can surrender to God, or to another person. Human persons have their own dynamism and their own laws of existence and growth. Jesus said, "He who would save his soul shall lose it, and he who would lose his soul for my sake shall find it again." (Mt. 10:39)

Take away from love the fullness of self surrender, the completeness of personal commitment, and what remains will be a total denial and negation of it.

By nature, the person is oriented to self-perfection, to a greater fullness of existence. However, by betrothed love, persons can totally give themselves to another. They can step out of their "I," surrender their "I," and in so doing, their "I" becomes enriched. Jesus’ words "would lose - shall find" go beyond the personalities norm, showing that persons have unique laws of development.

This self-surrender presupposes a mature value system and a prepared will. Betrothed love is never a "happening" or a fortuitous event in the person’s inner life. By betrothed love, the human "I" determines to give itself.

Betrothed love always involves just one other chosen person, (as in a surrender to God). Therefore, betrothed love is apt for marriage, where there is a clear surrender to the chosen spouse.

In marriage, the woman feels that her role is surrender, while the man’s experience is quite different. This viewpoint is insufficient, because examination of the marital relationship shows that the man should give himself in return for his wife’s self-giving.

If the man withholds this total surrender, then he is in danger of using his wife as an object. Even though their self-giving is different, both man and woman must make a mutual self-surrender.

Unfortunately this "gift of self" is interpreted as purely sexual. In truth, self-giving cannot be limited to sexual activity, because without a total self-gift, sexual activity is utilitarian. One can feel used. Here the personalistic norm is clearly in agreement with the moral code, which identifies marriage with the full surrender of betrothed love.

Monogamy is necessary because self-giving to a chosen person must preclude self-giving to another person. Marital intercourse, by focusing love on the spouse, helps to develop betrothed love. Only when limited to the spouse, can married love be truly ready for the child who is conceived from intercourse. This connection between sex and the person is manifest in the special awareness of the "I," by which every sexual giving always requires a giving of the whole person.

Betrothed love absolutely needs the other forms of love, especially goodwill and friendship. Without these "allies," self-sacrificing persons might find a void within themselves. They would then become helpless in the face of internal and external problems.

Mature love during stressful times

“The strength of such a (mature) love emerges most clearly when the beloved stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or sins come into the open.  One who truly loves does not then withdraw love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcomings and faults, and without in the least approving of them.  For the person as such never loses his/her essential value.  The emotion which attaches to the value of the person is loyal.”  n. 135

Parenthood Reflections by John Paul II

Willing acceptance of parenthood serves to break down reciprocal egoism (selfishness). Willingness for parenthood is an indispensable condition of love.

Genuine human love, love 'for' a person, and love 'between' persons, must combine two elements: tenderness and a certain firmness.

Love is never something ready made, something merely 'given' to man and woman, it is always...a 'task.'

Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.

Love should help one to understand and to feel for a human being. The man must reckon with the fact that the woman is in a sense in another world, unlike himself not only in the physiological but also in the psychological sense.

The indispensable requirement of correct behavior and health is training from childhood upwards in truth and in reverence for sex.

Fairest Love

In John Paul II's outstanding apostolic exhortation on marital and family love and life, Letter to Families (n.20) he wrote, "Christ wants to safeguard the holiness of marriage and of the family. He wants to defend the full truth about the human person and his dignity.

Only in the light of this truth can the family be 'to the end' the great 'revelation,' the first discovery of the other: the mutual discovery of husband and wife and then of each son and daughter born to them. All that a husband and wife promise to each other-to be 'true in good times and in bad, and to love and to honor each other all the days of their life'-is possible only when the 'fairest love' is present.  Man today cannot learn this from what modern mass culture has to say. 'Fairest love' is learned above all in prayer.  Prayer, in fact, always brings with it, to use the expression of St. Paul, a type of interior hiddenness with Christ in God; 'your life is hid with Christ in God' (Col 3:3). Only in this hiddenness do we see the workings of the Holy Spirit, the source of 'fairest love.' He has poured this love not only in the hearts of Mary and Joseph but also in the hearts of of all married couples who are open to hearing the word of God and keeping it (cf. Lk 8:15). The future of each family unit depends upon this 'fairest love': the mutual love of husband and wife, of parents and children, a love embracing all generations.  Love is the true source of the unity of and strength of the family."

The Family

"The family itself is the great mystery of God (Eph 5:32). As the 'domestic church' it is the bride of Christ. Could you ever imagine human love without the bridegroom and the love with which he first love to the end?

Only if husbands and wives share in that love and in that 'great mystery' can they love 'to the end.' Unless they share in it, they do not know 'to the end' what love truly is and how radical are its demands." LF, n. 19

Theology of the Body

In Theology of the Body John Paul II relates that God is a communion of love and that we are destined to share in that exchange of love. God imprinted in our bodies and sexuality the call to participate in a "created version" of His eternal "exchange of love." God created us male and female so that we could image the love within the Trinity by becoming a sincere gift to each other. Then sexual love becomes an image of the giving and receiving love in the heart or inner life of the Trinity. This understanding of marital intimacy helps us appreciate John Paul II's view that human sexuality within marriage is far greater than one can imagine.

In addition to imaging the Trinity, sexual love is also meant to image the union of God with humanity. Speaking of the communion of man and woman and the life they get in marriage, John Paul II writes, "In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery" (12/30/81).

Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners and his tapes on Theology of the Body can introduce couples to a deeper understanding of the profound thinking of John Paul II on marriage and sexuality and can be an important addition to the family library.

Safe Sex

"So-called "safe sex", which is touted by the "civilization of technology," is actually, in the view of the overall requirements of the person, radically not safe, indeed it is extremely dangerous. It endangers both the person and the family. And what is this danger? It is the loss of the truth about one's own self and about the family, together with the risk of a loss of freedom and consequently of a loss of love itself." (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994.)

Responsible parenthood is the necessary condition for human love,and it is also the necessary condition for authentic conjugal love, because love cannot be irresponsible. Its beauty is the fruit of responsibility. When love is truly responsible, it is also truly free. (Crossing the Threshold of Hope. John Paul II, 1994.)

Too Little Human Life

Families today have too little "human" life. There is a shortage of people with whom to create and share the common good; and yet that good, by its very nature, demands to be created and shared with others:bonum est diffusivum sui: "good is diffusive of itself." (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994.)

"We can realize how important prayer is with families and for families, in particular for those threatened by division. We need to pray that married couples will love their vocation, even when the road becomes difficult, or the paths become narrow, uphill and seemingly insuperable." (Letter to Families, 1994.)

Now you may want to return to the marital self-giving checklist and reflect on how you can increase your self-giving to the romantic, friendship and intimate aspects of your marriage.

Benefits of monogamy

Dr. Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, wrote, "Monogamous, married sex is more likely to deliver long-lasting satisfaction than the quick thrill offered by infidelity, According to the renowned University of Chicago Sex Survey, a monogamous sexual partnership embedded in a formal marriage evidently produces the greatest satisfaction and pleasure. This study found that both women and men like the emotional security that fidelity affords, and are more likely to report that they are anxious, scared and guilty when they have had sex with multiple partners in the last year."

Reflections on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Marriage

1639 - The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another is sealed by God himself.141 From their covenant arises “an institution, confirmed by the divine law,...even in the eyes of society.”142 The covenant between the spouses is integrated into God’s covenant with man: “Authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”143

How do you think you do receiving from your spouse? Do you appreciate that married love is caught up in divine love?

1641 - “By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.”145 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”146

Do you think you appreciate the special gifts in your spouse and in yourself?

1642 - Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,”1and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Do you and your spouse recognize the numerous benefits of having Christ dwell with you the your marriage?

Do you and your spouse recognize the numerous benefits of having Christ dwell with you the your marriage?

1643 - “ Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter — appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values.”150

Do you pursue a marital unity in which you focus more on the We of the marriage than on yourself?

1644 - The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”151 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”152 This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.

Do you appreciate how your spiritual life with the Lord can help your self-giving to your spouse and your marital happiness?

1661 - The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799).

Have you considered that the grace in your sacrament of Matrimony can help you to love your spouse more and can strengthen your marital relationship?

Deus Caritas Est: God is Love

God is Love is the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. He writes, “I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others” (DCE 1). His writing compliments and enriches the writing of John Paul II on love and marriage. Let us reflect on some of the Holy Father's wisdom from this encyclical.

"Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word 'love': we speak of love of country, love of one's profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbor and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison." (DCE 2)

"There is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity-a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. Yet we have also seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct. Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. Far from rejecting or 'poisoning' eros, they heal it and restore its true grandeur. It is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love - eros- able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur. The contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. The love of man and woman tends to rise 'in ecstasy' towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing." (DCE 5)

Do you know and believe in the love of God for you? If so, do you try to share this love with your spouse and children?

Do you attempt in your marriage to fight against selfishness and to seek the happiness of your spouse?

Communion with God and with Spouse

“The twofold communion with God and with one another is inseparable. Wherever communion with God, which is communion with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit is destroyed, the root and source of our communion with one another are destroyed.  And wherever we do not live communion among ourselves, communion with the Trinitarian God is not alive and true either.” Pope Benedict XVI, 2008,  Jesus, The Apostles, and the Early Church, p. 18

Sexual Conflicts in Marriage

A number of emotional conflicts can interfere with marital intimacy.   In our clinical experience the most common conflicts leading to sexual difficulties in marriage are the failure to give cheerfully and regularly to the romantic aspect of the marriage and to the marital friendship.  This insensitivity leads of a loss of trust, anger and discouragement.  The majority of couples who enjoy a good romantic relationship outside the bedroom and a close marital friendship have a comforting and enjoyable intimate relationship. 

Another source of stress in the intimate relationship is the failure of couples to understand the beauty and goodness of marital intimacy as described by John Paul II in Love and Responsibility, Theology of the Body, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Humane Vitae.  The document of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Married Love and the Gift of Life, is also helpful to spouses in this area.

The compulsive use of internet pornography by husbands is also damaging many marriages.  The addicted spouse chapter on this website addresses the healing of this serious conflict.

A common complaint of many married men in regard to sexual intimacy is that their wives rarely initiate self-giving in this area.  Some men think that their wives falsely believe that sexual intimacy is their gift to bestow or withhold and not a gift from God for the marriage.  This weaknesses and distorted thinking is most often the result of a mistrust of male love from hurts with fathers or with other men who hurt them prior to the marriage. Another important factor is that of a woman's modeling after a mistrustful mother.  Growth in trust in one's husband and in the Lord's plan for sexual intimacy can help to resolve this serious marital conflict.

Wives who fail to experience pleasure during sexual intimacy often have weaknesses in their ability to completely entrust themselves to their husbands.  John Paul II in Faith and Reason has written that men women are on an unstoppable journey to find someone they can truly entrust ourselves to. Although spouses believe they have attained this goal in their marital relationship, unresolved emotional pain from prior to the marriage or from the marriage can completely limit the ability to surrender to and feel safe with one's spouse which is essential for the experience of sexual pleasure in women.  The emotional conflicts which need to be uncovered and addressed are usually mistrust, unresolved anger and an excessive sense of independence arising out of selfishness. Also, a husband may have to work on his weaknesses which have damaged his wife's ability to feel safe and protected with him.  Chapters on this site address these conflicts which can be completely resolved.

In women the major conflicts in sexual self-giving and receiving include:

  • loss of trust due to the husband's failure to give to the romantic aspect of the marriage and to the marital friendship
  • loss of trust in the husband due to the his failure to communicate
  • a weakness in trusting and self-giving as a result of never feeling safe with the father or mother who was distant, angry, alcoholic, selfish or left the family, as well as divorce trauma in the family of origin
  • a need to control that harms a husband's ability to trust and to respond sexually
  • difficulty kissing one's spouse because of earlier sexual abuse
  • selfishness with a complete preoccupation with oneself
  • a weakness in trusting as a result of being hurt by males prior to the marriage and of being used as sexual object
  • excessive dependence upon romantic feelings rather than upon the spousal friendship
  • failure to appreciate the calling to self-giving in the area of sexual intimacy
  • lack of maternal comforting love
  • mistrust secondary to feeling used as a sexual object
  • use of husband as sexual object (the contraceptive mentality)
  • false notion that it is the husband's responsibility to initiate marital intimacy
  • poor body image and confidence
  • weak spiritual life
  • severe marital conflicts
  • lack of balance with exhaustion and tiredness
  • excessive worries and stresses
  • failure to attend to the marital friendship
  • lack of healthy priorities with the placement of children, work or friendships before the husband
  • excessive anger
  • boredom secondary to the use of contraceptives, that is, not open to the possibility of new life
  • physical or emotional illness
  • possible hormonal factors
  • past history of sexual abuse
  • exhaustion
  • loss of a romantic feeling for one's spouse.

In men the major conflicts in sexual self-giving and receiving love include:

  • failure to give to the romantic aspect of the marriage and to the marital friendship
  • loss of trust in a wife due to her anger, controlling tendencies, selfishness or emotionally distant behaviors
  • the repetition of the behaviors of an emotionally distant father
  • lack of balance
  • disordered priorities placing work, sports or children before the wife
  • reliance upon sexual intimacy to resolve loneliness and to build confidence
  • excessive dependence upon romantic feelings rather than upon the spousal friendship
  • lack of comforting maternal love
  • inability to trust one's mother because of controlling, angry or selfish behaviors
  • use of wife as sexual object (the contraceptive mentality)
  • failure to communicate well
  • loss of trust and fears of betrayal secondary to parental divorce
  • excessive worries and stresses
  • selfishness
  • poor body image and weak confidence
  • pornography use
  • excessive anger
  • compulsive masturbation
  • history of sexual abuse
  • strong insecurities leading to a preoccupation with the spouse's previous sexual experiences
  • physical or emotional illness
  • failure to be sensitive to how exhausted one's wife is
  • loss of a romantic feeling for one's spouse
  • obsession with sexual intimacy as a result of lack of comforting love in the family of origin
  • involvement with pornography during times of intimacy
  • use of sexual fantasy during times of intimacy as a result of depression, weak confidence,
  • a failure to understand the sacrament of marriage and marital love
  • a weak spiritual life. 

Finally, the major causes of masturbation in marriage are selfishness, loneliness, marital mistrust and stress, all of which can be successfully addressed.

Marital infidelity

Numerous factors contribute to marital infidelity, including:

  • selfishness
  • loneliness - in the marriage or in the family of origin
  • stress with a controlling, negative or critical spouse
  • depression
  • boredom secondary to the use of contraceptives, that is, not open to the possibility of new life
  • weaknesses in confidence or poor body image
  • anger
  • severe marital conflicts with the loss of marital trust
  • excessive pressures in career or financial pressures
  • compulsive use of pornography
  • lack of respect from spouse
  • acceptance of sexual utilitarian philosophy with promiscuity before marriage
  • lack of faith.

Chapters on this site related to narcissism, excessive anger, controlling conflicts and emotionally distant behaviors describe how many of conflicts leading to difficulties with marital intimacy can be resolved.  When they are uncovered and addressed, particularly through growth in virtues, the marital friendship, romantic relationship and sexual intimacy can be enriched, purified and strengthened.  

Attached is a power point on marital infidelity.

Medical Risks with Oral Contraceptives

A new important important pamphlet on the serious health risks associated with oral contraceptives, Problems associated Hormonal Birth Control, which is authored by 4 physicians, is available at www.omsoul.com.  These include abortion since oral contraceptives only prevent the release of the female egg in about 65-75% of cycles. For this reason, pregnancy, and subsequent chemical abortion, is possible on average every third cycle. A nation-wide survey indicated that 54% of the women who had an abortion were using birth control the month before. Also, if the pill is taken before a woman's first pregnancy, there is a 44%increased risk of breast cancer. The risk for cervical and liver cancer is also increased by the use of the pill.  Its use is also associated with increased risk of myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke.

The use of oral contraceptives led to the sexual revolution with subsequent dramatic increases in premarital sex, sexually transmitted infections, cohabitation, out-of wedlock births, abortion, adultery, divorce, abortion, and out-of-wedlock births. single-parent families, poverty and associated social ills. They have contributed in a major way to the worldwide onset of demographic winter, www.demographicwinter.com.

Several other related articles for couples on oral contraceptives are available at www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-01-038-f and www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0049.html. Also, power point presentations on the medical and sociological dangers of contraception are available at www.cathmedphila.org/resources/evidence_based_ethics.htm. These articles and power point presentations document the serious psychological, medical, sociological damage which has been caused by the use of oral contraceptives over the past 40 years.

Natural Family Planning

Natural family planning is as effective in the planning of children as contraceptives without the serious risks to the health and happiness of marriages, children, families, the culture and entire countries.  When used for just and serious reasons NFP is medically and psychologically healthier method for family planning. 

The major reasons why couples have difficulties with NFP are because of selfishness in one or both spouses associated with a strong sense of entitlement and a lack of self-denial.  Many young spouses come from the new two child family and have been overly indulged most of their lives. They are often not prepared for the degree of self-denial which is necessary with NFP.  Young couples should be warned about this issue and advised to complete the selfishness checklist in the evaluate your marital friendship chapter on this website.  If the score is high, they should review in the selfish spouse chapter the virtues which can diminish selfishness in marriage.  By the way, many popes have written that selfishness is the major enemy of marital love

The other emotional conflict which can interfere with NFP in young couples is that of an excessive need to control in relationships.  Spouses who are controlling are not going to do well with NFP until they address this weakness in their personality.  The major causes of this conflict are weaknesses in trusting and selfishness.  The resolution of these conflicts is discussed in the controlling spouse chapter.

Another difficulty which can arise with NFP is seen in men who rely too much upon sexual intimacy to maintain their sense of male confidence.  These man can become stressed when they are unable to be intimate.  However, this temporary pain can lead to greater emotional freedom when they realize that they need to grow in a greater appreciation of their special God-given gifts as men, be grateful for them and not rely as much upon their wives for their sense of male confidence.

We encourage NFP in couples because we believe its use can help couples grow in the virtues which strengthen their personalities and their marriages.  On the other hand the use of oral contraceptives often results in a sense of entitlement in men, in particular, and contributes to marital selfishness and conflict. 

John Paul II & Contraception

Catholic couples often have difficulty understanding the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexual morality, particularly in regard to contraception. This is especially important given the growing body of psychological, medical and sociological evidence which demonstrates the damaging effects of contraception on individuals, marriages and families.  For example, a clear relationship has been established between the contraceptive mentality and the divorce epidemic, described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a plague. The writings of John Paul II can assist engaged couples in understanding the Church's wisdom on contraception.

In John Paul II's outstanding apostolic exhortation on married and family love and life, Familiaris Consortio , he wrote, "Couples act as arbiters of the divine plan and they manipulate and degrade human sexuality - and with it themselves and their married partner- by altering its value of 'total' self-giving. The innate language (of the body) that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid through contraception by an objectively contradictory language, namely that of not giving oneself totally to one¡¦s spouse.  This leads not only to a positive refusal not to be open to life, but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality," The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, n.32.

A new important important pamphlet on the serious health risks associated with oral contraceptives, Problems associated Hormonal Birth Control, is available at www.omsoul.com. Several other related articles for couples on oral contraceptives are available at www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=18-01-038-f and www.catholiceducation.org/articles/sexuality/se0049.html. Also, power point presentations on the medical and sociological dangers of contraception are available at www.cathmedphila.org/resources/evidence_based_ethics.htm. These articles and power point presentations document the serious psychological, medical, sociological damage which has been caused by the use of oral contraceptives over the past 40 years.

Pope Benedict on Contraception and Humanae Vitae

At the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vita Pope Benedict affirmed that "in a culture suffering from the prevalence of having over being, human life risks losing its value. If the practice of sexuality becomes a drug that seeks to enslave the partner to one's own desires and interests, without respecting the times of the beloved, then what must be defended is no longer just the concept of love but, primarily, the dignity of the person."

"Freedom must join with truth, and responsibility with strength of dedication to others, also through sacrifice," he stated. "Without these principles the community of man does not develop and there is a risk of being trapped in oppressive selfishness." 

Marital Happiness

The following words of an early Church leader proclaim the deep happiness of Christian marriage in which two truly become one.

“How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father?...How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit," Tertullian.