Barbara and Greg Nelsen had been married six years and already had three children when they attended a Marriage Encounter weekend together. It was there that they discovered what would save a “very stressful” time in their marriage: Natural Family Planning.
“It definitely enriches a marriage because you are communicating on such an intimate topic and giving so completely of yourselves both physically and emotionally,” explained Barbara Nelsen, who with her husband Greg, has been teaching Natural Family Planning for more than 35 years. “It really does help to build that intimacy and respect in a marriage. We found that it spilled over into other areas of our married life. It encompassed so much our married life, not just the planning of our family.”
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is the term for various methods of achieving or postponing pregnancies that are based on the observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. NFP cooperates with God’s design for marriage by respecting both the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual union. With its emphasis on communication, sacrifice and mutual self-gift, many couples find an added benefit of NFP is the strengthening of their marriage.
“There’s the term “SPICE” in the NFP world – it promotes Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Communicative and Emotional intimacy,” said Doctor Pearl Huang-Ramirez, a family physician and medical consultant for the Creighton Model of Natural Family Planning. “Communicating your love to your spouse by giving yourself totally, without any barriers, speaks volumes about dying to oneself and giving oneself completely. The way that the Church looks at it is that this reflects Christ giving of himself. It’s a totality of the whole person and that includes the union of body and soul. You can’t just block off one part and not affect the relationship a little bit.”
Dr. Huang-Ramirez explained that NFP looks at sex as multi-dimensional and during times of abstinence, the couples must find non-sexual ways to express their love for one another. She also pointed out that with NFP there are frequent conversations about sexual desires, emotional well-being, and family size, which helps couples prayerfully discern God’s plan for their marriage and to be open to the Holy Spirit.
Although Katie and Ryan Totolo were committed to using Natural Family Planning from the beginning of their marriage, Katie admits that at times it could be challenging to give their fertility over to God and trust in his plan completely. But they followed the advice of a priest during their marriage preparation who said, “Obedience before understanding. You might not understand the Church’s teachings right now but you need to be obedient to her will and trust that she has your best interests at heart.” Now, seven years and three children later, the Totolos are grateful for the ways NFP has impacted their marriage and their faith.
“NFP opened up our communication. I was an introvert and I would kind of bottle things up,” said Katie. “With NFP, if I ever felt like I was being taken for granted, I was able to voice that better because it was no longer just an expectation that I would be available whenever. It was a mutual discussion and respect for each other.”
“Our openness to life changed drastically,” Katie continued. “We just had to be obedient and trust that God’s grace would be there. The craziness will always be there too, but it will always work out. When we’re obedient to His will He never disappoints us.”
Ryan agreed saying, “NFP is a classic example of the Lord gives you what you need and not what you want sometimes. It’s changed our perspective, how we look at each other and how we love each other. It made us value each other in a different way. Society calls us to express love in a single way, in an often shallow way, and it’s really sad because that’s not the love we’re called to. We’re called to love beyond sex alone.”
To learn more about Natural Family Planning, visit www.orlandodiocese.org and search for Natural Family Planning under the Ministries tab.
By Elizabeth Wilson, Florida Catholic correspondent – February 14, 2018