In the last two years, I’ve known a lot of engaged and newly married couples. Everyone has their own attitude about Catholic Marriage Prep (Pre-Cana) and NFP.
Some are enthusiastic and see it as a perfect “practice round” for their marriage while others are indifferent and just checking the boxes to get married in the Church. Unfortunately, some resent the process entirely and don’t “buy into” the effect of the preparation.
We could easily talk about the statistics of how a marriage preparation course and practicing NFP instead of contraception drastically lowers divorce rates. Doing the hard work when you’re engaged before the real work when you’re married is a good wake-up call to the reality that the end of the altar is not happily ever after. Marriage is not a finish line, but another checkpoint in a relationship.
But by this point, when reading this blog, you’ve probably been educated about those statistics and facts. So, let me share some of my experience since being engaged.
People are in awe of Catholics
For all the arguments that our Church is too strict or old-fashioned, critics don’t argue that our marriage prep is inspiring.
Very unfortunately, I’ve known young friends who got divorced in their 20s or are in unhappy marriages. When I was engaged and newly married, they were in awe to hear that my husband and I went through a Pre-Cana course and did pre-marital counseling on top of it. More than one non-Catholic friend has said they wished their church offered a Pre-Cana course or retreat and believe it would have greatly improved their marriage.
Many people still shy away from NFP. Abstinence before marriage is rarely practiced anymore—no matter your religion—so hearing that there will be times that spouses must take a break from one another can be genuinely unthinkable.
But, if anyone sticks around the conversation long enough to hear why we practice NFP, they are usually even more impressed than they were by the concept of Pre-Cana.
Shortly before I gave birth to our son, my doctor asked me if we planned to use birth control postpartum. She meant no malice in this, and I didn’t take it as such, because she really thought birth control was the only way people avoided pregnancy. She knew I’d had a hard nine months and she wanted to be able to help talk me through my options for medication if I didn’t want to get pregnant again immediately. The hospital staff did the same thing.
When I told her that we practiced Natural Family Planning, she said that was wonderful, but it didn’t work during breastfeeding. After we talked a little more, I realized she thought I was talking about the rhythm method. She assumed that I counted the days of my menstrual cycle to predict my ovulation window. And yes, that does not work when breastfeeding (5 months postpartum, I still have not had a proper menstrual period).
The beauty of NFP today is that we don’t have to rely on the calendar to “guess” our fertility windows. We can track our mucus, temperature, and cervical position. When I told my doctor that we chart my mucus discharge, she was absolutely blown away and said she wished she had been taught about this in medical school!
It’s unfortunate that the world does not put emphasis on proper preparation for marriage. It seems very typical for people to either be crippled by commitment-phobia or propelled by the wiles of love when making decisions about getting married. It’s even sadder that well-meaning and loving couples think the only way they can manage their family is through contraception. So please, know that what we as Catholics are taught to practice is hard. But it also is the best, most freeing thing in the world.