I love when I hear couples exclaim how much Natural Family Planning (NFP) has increased the intimacy of their relationship. It might seem counterintuitive to some that a family-planning method requiring periods of sexual abstinence could add intimacy to a relationship, but you’d be surprised what some couples who use NFP would say.
How do couples find periods of abstinence fulfilling? One husband commented on the Natural Womanhood Facebook Page that NFP helped him appreciate his wife more. It could be that having periods of abstinence helps him appreciate the different ways to grow intimacy with his wife besides sexually. While we are sexual beings, perhaps what periods of abstinence provide are opportunities to see each other more fully as the multifaceted people we are.
So, how can you make the most of a 8-9 day period of abstinence?
Our Cultural Confusion Over Intimacy
Let’s start with an awareness of the cultural context we find ourselves in. Despite its broad definition as “something of a personal or private nature,” the word “intimacy” has developed a decidedly sexual connotation in our culture.
There’s no doubt that sex is an intimate experience, one that should be honored as both personal and private. Sex changes a relationship and can deepen a couple’s bond. However, there are more ways to be intimate than to engage in intercourse, ways that can similarly strengthen a relationship.
When practicing Natural Family Planning or Fertility-Awareness-Based Methods (FABMs) to avoid pregnancy, there are times when a couple needs to abstain from sexual intercourse and genital contact. With the way sex is often portrayed in the media—that is, readily available and best when spontaneous—abstaining for any length of time may seem nearly impossible. It can be challenging, of course, but it’s absolutely possible, and there’s no reason your relationship needs to suffer because of it. In fact, quite the opposite is possible.
The single most important thing that needs to happen before a period of abstinence begins is a conversation in which the couple comes to fully agree about why they’re abstaining, for how long, and what they’re going to do in the meantime.
What are your reasons for avoiding a pregnancy? Are both partners fully on board? How long is this period of abstinence going to be? When is the next conversation about going to happen about having intercourse? Put this date on the calendar and be sure to make time to talk things through when it comes.
Communicating about a woman’s fertile signs is always important, in that it allows the couple to make decisions about whether or not to have sex on a given day. But communication in a period of abstinence in particular needs to be about more than cervical mucous, basal body temperature, or luteinizing hormone. This is prime time to reconnect in an intellectual and emotional way.
Set aside time (time you might have used in the bedroom) to linger over a glass of seltzer or wine and discuss your goals as a couple or family. What challenges have recently come your way? How did you handle them? Do you presently feel valued and loved in your relationship? If not, what could change that? If you’re not sure how to start this conversation, grab a copy of The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman and read it together.
Experiencing a time when sex is off the table can help a couple to recognize fissures in the foundation of their relationship that might devolve into larger cracks if left unaddressed. Though they are abstaining from sex, they need not abstain from drawing closer to each other in other significant ways.
Do Something (Else) Physical.
Abstaining when you have a strong attraction can result in feeling a great deal of pent-up energy. Expend that—together—by going for a hike, playing a game of tennis or another sport you enjoy, taking a fitness class, or choosing a race and training for it. Having something to work toward during a longer period of abstinence can give you a healthy longer-term outlet for your physical energy. Bonus: If you hope to conceive after this period of abstinence, both partners will be healthier and stronger, which could lead to fewer complications during pregnancy.
Make Headway on Your Personal Goals—Together.
Any couples counselor will tell you that a key component to healthy relationships is being able to recognize and value your partner’s goals and work to plan your future together. Is there a home-improvement project you have been meaning to tackle? A personal goal one of you has to try every restaurant in your local area that serves chicken and waffles? A cannon of Great Books you wanted to read and discuss? A cooking class you wanted to take? There are as many personal goals as there are people, and periods of abstinence are the perfect time to tackle them together. After you’ve tackled your mutual goals, you can alternate between each other’s personal goals that you’d like to help each other with. You’d be surprised how much relationship satisfaction can come from helping each other reach goals together.
It’s worth remembering that periods of abstinence are not only for those practicing NFP. They are realities of life for anyone who experiences a postpartum period or a debilitating illness. Practicing NFP can equip couples to be more prepared for those periods.
In any period of abstinence, it’s crucial to make time to honor the intellectual and emotional aspects of the relationship. True intimacy is fostered through more than sexual contact. It’s about acknowledging, respecting, and valuing the whole of the other person. Make a plan, commit to it, and (though it will be challenging at times!) enjoy reaping the benefits today and in the future.