Why do NFP couples have such low divorce rates?

The low divorce rate among couples practicing NFP reflects a combination of factors.

First, couples with strong relationships may be more likely than other couples to choose to practice NFP. After all, NFP depends on some of the same virtues as marriage itself: commitment, communication, consideration, and self-control. Couples who reject NFP as “too much trouble” or “too restrictive” all too often turn out to be the same couples who ultimately find the demands of marriage itself to be too much to handle.

Second, NFP helps strengthen marital relationships. On the most basic level, since the spouses are not constantly sexually available to the other, it keeps them from taking the other for granted. Often women rightly complain that the use of contraception has lowered their sense of worth.

I recently received a letter from a woman who said that while she and her first husband were using contraception, she felt like a “toy or a recreational vehicle.” The contraception made her husband assume that she was always sexually available, and she felt used and taken for granted. She has since been married in the Church and has used NFP for years. In her words, “a chaste marriage is the ultimate!” After abandoning contraception and switching to NFP, another woman said, “I now know the true meaning of the word ‘intimate.”’[1] When was the last time you heard a woman say that using a spermicide is “the ultimate!” and that after using a condom she finally knew the meaning of intimacy? The enthusiasm has never been there because no woman wants to be at war with her body. Sure, she may want to delay pregnancy, but she has never been ecstatic about the methods commonly offered to do that. She may seem content, but she silently wishes there was a better arrangement.

NFP is this better way, and couples who make the switch are more than pleased with the results. One way to measure a couple’s satisfaction with a method of spacing births is to look at how many continue to use it over time. For example, spermicides have a 42 percent annual continuation rate; the condom, 53 percent; the shot, 56 percent; the diaphragm, a 57 percent rate; and the Pill, 68 percent.[2] What about NFP? Research of 1,876 couples using the Creighton Model of NFP showed that it has an annual continuation rate of 89 percent—which is higher than any form of reversible contraception.[3]

The Church explains that the practice of NFP “favors attention for one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility.”[4] Many men do not realize that there is a time for a wife to be sexually intimate and a time for her to have some space. Men who sacrifice to give a woman that freedom improve the unity and intimacy of the marriage. The relationship has space to breathe. In the words of one husband, “It’s wonderful because it almost creates the honeymoon over and over again.”[5]

All-Pro NFL quarterback Philip Rivers pointed out that self control “doesn’t end when you get married. Chastity is still part of your marriage.” He and his wife practice NFP, and he admitted that “it can be hard as ever sometimes. But it makes us stronger and love each other more. It allows you to love in many different ways. . . . That part of our relationship has strengthened us.”[6]

During the times of abstinence, the spouses learn to express love in nonsexual ways. As a result, the intimacy between them deepens. In the meantime their anticipation of the marital act will intensify its joy. Furthermore, even the act of abstaining from intercourse can be a loving gesture, since not having more children at that time may be best for the family.

At times couples resort to sex as a way to solve problems, when in reality they are only burying the issues under a false sense of closeness. Since complete physical intimacy is not always possible for the couple practicing NFP, they cannot as easily use the feeling of physical intimacy to cover up conflicts. This opens a door for them to deepen their ability to communicate and solve problems. As a result, their exchange of the marital act is not as likely to be a means to bury problems but an opportunity to celebrate their love.

The use of contraception also fosters a level of rejection between spouses. By sterilizing the act of intercourse, the woman is saying that she wants to make love, but will kill any sperm that come her way.[7] The man is saying that he accepts everything about the woman except for fertility. He gives everything to her except his potential fatherhood. The language of sex should be that of complete self-donation, but that is impossible with contraception. Since the body reveals the person, a rejection of the body is a rejection of the spouse.

Also, couples who reject contraception are less likely to see children as a burden. Because of their generous spirit, they tend to have larger families, and divorce rates are highest where children are fewest. NFP couples also tend to take their faith, and therefore the sacrament of marriage, more seriously than the average contracepting couple.

Lastly, since the couple never sterilize acts of intercourse, they are truly renewing their wedding promises each time they exchange the marital act. Knowing that they are not blocking God’s plan for life and love, their times of unity as one flesh take on the joy, peace, and freedom that come from obeying the Lord and his bride, the Church.

[1] Nona Aguilar, No-Pill, No-Risk Birth Control (New York: Rawson & Wade, 1980), 102.
[2]. R.A. Hatcher, et al., Contraceptive Technology, Nineteenth Revised Edition (New York: Ardent Media, 2007).
[3]. Thomas Hilgers, et al., “Creighton Model NaPro Education Technology for Avoiding Pregnancy. Use Effectiveness,” The Journal of Reproductive Medicine 43:6 (June 1998), 495–502.
[4]. Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 21.
[5]. Charlotte Hays, “Solving the Puzzle of Natural Family Planning,” Crisis, December 2001, 15.
[6]. Cyril Jones-Kellett, “Charger Quarterback Lends Voice to Chastity Conference,” The Southern Cross (June 21, 2007), 11.
[7]. Janet E. Smith. Contraception, Why Not. Audiotape of lecture presented at meeting of the Catholic Physicians Guild at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio, May 1994. (Dayton, Ohio: One More Soul, 1999).

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