NFP and the Non-Catholic Spouse

This post is for Entropy at Just Between Us, who asks:

There are a few rules to being open to life. How do I manage these sexual “restrictions”? Sure I could lay down the law and then I might not be married anymore or at least not happily so. It is easier for me to implement these things than him, one, because I’m a woman and view sex differently, positively, but differently from a man, two, simply because I believe it’s true, and here I am asking him to buy into something he just doesn’t. He’s not a jerk, he’s just not Catholic. And this is not what he signed up for.

I don’t want to get too personal in this quite public format (and maybe I’ve already crossed that line) but I do need advice

SuperHusband is not Catholic, and despite his general superness, this particular issue was not an easy one for us.  Here are a few thoughts — kind of tossed out of the top of my head, but these are the big things that mattered for me:

First of all, You should know that the church recognizes the reality of your situation.


13. Special difficulties are presented by cases of cooperation in the sin of a spouse who voluntarily renders the unitive act infecund. In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish cooperation in the proper sense, from violence or unjust imposition on the part of one of the spouses, which the other spouse in fact cannot resist.46, 561).] This cooperation can be licit when the three following conditions are jointly met:

1. when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;47

2. when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;

3. when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).

Translation:  If your spouse puts on a condom, and you’ve told him you think it’s wrong, and you weren’t going <<wink wink “honey whatever you do don’t put on a condom” wink wink>> but rather he knows that you genuinely do believe this is wrong (and perhaps you’ve even given him the reasons), so long as *your end* of the act is moral, you may be okay.

Now if he’s good with abstaining, abstain.

–> And remember, take this one night at time.  If he’s willing to abstain tonight, that’s good.  Just go with it.  (Unless you are definitely in the infertile time, in which case you should seduce him like a crazed vixen.  Did I say that out loud?  Anyway, he won’t mind.)

But if you have a really serious reason (such as saving your marriage) for cooperating with the act despite his immoral decision, it may be licit.  Which is to say:  “not a mortal sin”.

That said, there’s  a serious responsibility on you to do everything you can to make it so that he can do the right thing.  Which means learning NFP like nobody’s business.  And yeah, just ignore that chirpy voice from the NFP Establishment saying “your husband should be involved in charting blah blah blah”.  Hello, no, unless your husband has a thing for mucus, he’s not going to help you chart.  The measure of a man is not his eagergness to write down a temperature recording.

–> Do note that once you understand NFP, contraception gets a little laughable.  Because it comes to your attention that 100% of condom failures occur during the fertile period.  So if you are serious about avoiding pregnancy, DO NOT HAVE INTERCOURSE WHEN YOU KNOW YOU ARE FERTILE.  Which you can know, thanks to NFP.   I don’t care what he’s wearing, that’s the only time of month babies are made.

(I should add: Babies are just lovely.  If you want to conceive, you can use NFP to help him know exactly when his condom is most likely to fail.  But then, if wants to conceive, he should take that thing off.)

You also have to really learn the why’s of your faith.  Because it just is not going to last very long any other way.  He should be challenging it.  Catholicism is nuts — my goodness, the Incarnation, the Resurrection — who can blame the man for doubting?

But that process of him testing the faith, and you putting in the work to really know the reasons for your beliefs, is going to transform your life.  He may or may not end up catholic (SuperHusband is a really Super Non-Catholic), but he will understand more over time, and that will be a help.  And you will be firmer and more mature in your faith, which will help make all this much more clear.

Finally, here’s something to know about contrition:

When you walk into that confessional because, once again, you have totally blown it, all you need is the resolution not to sin again.  Yes, you need to really mean it.  But you do not need to know how you are going to carry it out.    You do not need to be convinced this is something you can somehow magically muster the ability to resist for the indefinite future.

Yes yes, you should develop a plan to avoid sin if you can.  Yes, many sins can eliminated by sheer hard work.  But when your occasion of sin is your own husband, you can neither avoid nor eliminate.  (And you should not want to!)

–> The part of your situation that involves your husband, that part is God’s job.

So when you make that resolution to amend your life, it is okay to remind the Lord that you will be needing some assistance.  And that you will do everything in your power to avoid the sin, and are simply going to trust Him that He will do what is required on His end.

So that’s confession.

And then if you find yourself back there again, because you screwed up (so to speak) again, please note: There is a reason they keep regular hours for this sacrament, and they’ve been doing it a whole lot longer than your or I ever became Catholic.  We aren’t the first members of the church who actually need a Savior.

Take heart.  There is hope.

8 thoughts on “NFP and the Non-Catholic Spouse

  1. Wow. That’s terrific advice. Thank you, thank you!

    I’ve been trying to ply, er, I mean, provide him with more and more information under the assumption that if only he understood then how could he not agree?

    He doesn’t agree but I love him anyway. It’s so great to know someone else has this problem!

    1. Glad it was helpful. (Just ignore any bits that aren’t.)

      It would be nice if the information = agreement equation worked. It doesn’t. Not reliably, anyhow. But: Information –> Better Understanding is often helpful. With the trick being that these are highly emotional topics, and so presentation really, really matters. Like rule #1 – never discuss these topics during a period of abstinence. Not good. Not good at all. Too many hormones, too small a house. Bad scene.

      The other thing is the whole picture matters — not just the why’s of NFP, but the why’s of the Catholic faith. So it’s a long process, and a lot of work. I’m tired just thinking about it.

      But it is good, and he’s worth it.

      Good luck, and stay in touch as needed.


  2. Great post!!

    My husband and I have had the conversation that having intercourse when I’m 90% sure I’m fertile while using a condom is like playing Russian roulette…it only takes one bullet getting through. (That’s how we got DD#3. But she was so great that we decided to have #4.)

    What’s tougher is to overcome the temptation when I’m only about 50% sure of my fertility or like right now in the postpartum period when I am starting to have some fertility signs but no temperature shifts/periods and may unknowingly be a ticking time-bomb.

    1. You are right about the nether-zone of fertility – especially postpartum, but peri-menopause or if you are just lucky and have weird cycles. Definitely the hardest part for any couple, and I think even harder for couples who come to NFP after many years of being able to take the babies as they come with no abstinence at all.

      If I have four weeks (or months) of ambiguous fertility, it is easy to say, okay, any given day has only a low chance of being fertile. But thing is, it is more or less all-or-nothing. Tonight when I go to bed, I either have a very high chance of conceiving, or almost none at all. When I’m stuck in a mode where I just can’t know because NFP is not yet perfect, well, that stinks. Now I’m stuck living like it’s 1910, or 1810, or all those other centuries when achieving-related-behavior was an all-or-nothing proposition.

      –> Real test of the seriousness of my reasons for avoiding pregnancy.

  3. I’m probably not the only one whose NFP-co-operating husband has said, “Honey, if you feel like it at all, we probably shouldn’t do it.”
    One of the things that’s difficult about NFP is that, since relations are confined to times when the wife is infertile, her body will require courting. In the midst of multiple children and his work, it will require his determination to prepare his wife the way her body requires. With a husband whose not on board, this is a minefield. There is a period after childbirth (six weeks) when intercourse is risky to the mother’s health. I believe that a straw poll would reveal that even this six weeks has been violated by many otherwise loving husbands. Then there is the problem of pornography, which is everywhere, and the way women dress, even in church. Essentially, we live in a culture that hates women and pushes them toward unnatural acts (primarily to attempt never to look their actual age). In short, it’s war, and war brings out the best and worst in people, sometimes in the same person in quick succession. I would rather have young women understand that it’s not about fertility so much as love (as described by St. Paul) versus love as defined by a culture that does not value commitment or postpone pleasure. If your (prospective/or) spouse does not believe in the finer points of faith, then the battlefield will never be confined to that period of time when you are fertile, or even to the bedroom, and you need to know the selection of weapons available to you, and that they are effective (frequent use is important–you need to be confident of their efficacy–you acquire the habit, God will demonstrate His faithfulness constantly). Prayer backed up by fasting is number one, but fasting needn’t always involve food–it could be fasting from reading the paper, or coffee or something else you think you need. Then there is the resource of Mary (the sub tuum or any short prayer–it must be one that you can say even when it’s hard to think). Always begin your day by offering God (through Mary) all your prayers, joys, works, and sufferings. Lastly, get to know the saints, St. Monica and St. Rita of Cascia come to mind, and, of course, make friends with St. Anthony (who doesn’t misplace things several times a day?–this is bound to be a saint you will learn confidence in). In fact, I found that when I used this prayer: Tony, Tony, please come round, something’s lost that can’t be found! it worked so fast that I thought he must like me addressing him more familiarly. Sometimes you will fall in spite of your best intentions, so you need to be in the regular habit of confession (and keep in mind that all things are possible for God) and in the confusion of battle you can ask Mary to get you to confession and the Holy Spirit to tell you what to say when you get there. Help is never far away!

    1. You hit on an important point. There are many couples who struggle with the wife’s lack of interest during the infertile time. That is a significant cross to bear — regardless of whether the couple is avoiding or trying to conceive, though obviously you feel it more keenly when trying to avoid pregnancy. I think with respect to Entropy’s original question, for the catholic wife of a non-catholic husband, that is going to be a point where she can make her commitment to NFP clear, by being willing to be intimate even when it is difficult to muster the interest. Actions speak volumes. And for a couple in that situation, that is a powerful kind of prayer and fasting in itself. Not easy, though.

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