Today, we are so happy to welcome Heidi Bratton, author of Making Peace with Motherhood and Creating a Better You and Homegrown Faith for Catholic Families and the Celebrate series of four board books, to our family of CatholicMom.com contributors. Heidi will be sharing her writing here every month. We welcome her and invite you visit Heidi’s website for more of her great creative work!
It seems to me that romantic love is, by nature, spontaneous. Thinking back to when my husband and I were dating, I remember my stomach leaping into my throat every time the phone rang. What should I say if it was him?! I remember when his hand brushing mine caused my heart to skip a beat.
Following the normal cycle of getting married, starting careers, and having children, the impulsive nature of our love has matured. What was once a high-spirited maple key, swirling down from the sky, has been planted and grown into a steadfast tree. This steady, ‘love is a choice’ kind of love has given us the strength to weather temporary activity whirlwinds, and longer-term seasons of stress as a couple. I am grateful that we now share both kinds of love, because I believe God designed marriage to be both passionate and practical. The trick is to continue romancing even after the wedding bells have stopped pealing, and routine has set in.
My husband and I had the privilege of being taught the importance of this in pre-marital counseling by several Catholic couples that had been married for 20+ years. These couples talked openly about the importance of a healthy sexual relationship, and I’d like to share some key bits of their wisdom.
The first key they taught us was to learn and practice the art of Natural Family Planning (NFP). As a way to naturally regulate childbearing, NFP is one of the most misunderstood and under utilized gems of Catholic teachings. Among couples that practice NFP, however, there is not only an incredibly low divorce rate, but also an incredibly high rate of satisfaction within marriage. I did a little research and found that only 2% of couples that practice NFP get divorced as compared to the national divorce rate of 50%. I also found that 89% of women who practiced NFP seem to share a deeper intimacy with their spouse than women who did not practice NFP. (www.familyplanning.net/index-home.html)
The long and short of NFP is that it is much more than a natural method of birth control. Practiced faithfully, it is a marriage tool that facilitates better communication, more self-giving, and, yes, possibly more children. Whether a couple desires to have or to postpone having a child, they use the same awareness of the wife’s ovulation cycle to decide when to share the marital embrace. Of course periodic abstinence in marriage may not sound like it helps spontaneity, but a monthly, agreed upon recess from sex throws spouses back into the dating years, helps them not to take sex for granted, and reminds them to cultivate non-sexual ways of expressing their love. Clearly these are not the theological reasons to practice NFP, but our pre-marital counselors were not theologians. They were just calling it as they saw and lived it: obedience to church teachings about NFP had the positive side effects of heaping multiple blessings on their marriages.
The second and third keys from our pre-marital counselors were to pray together daily and to continue dating. They taught us that by praying together, we would not only feel the relief of lifting our burdens to God, but also the companionship of sharing our burdens with each other. We have made it a priority to continue dating weekly, and it has kept our romance alive. Over time our daily prayer time together has also become a mini date. Listening to each other’s prayers not only helps us keep in touch with daily happenings, but with each other’s souls.
With regard to love that was promised for a lifetime, it takes intentionality to preserve spontaneity, especially amid the complexity of family life. By practicing Natural Family Planning, praying together daily, and scheduling dates, romance gives way to routine, which carves out occasions for romance, which give way to routine… so that, like tree rings in a giant maple, the spontaneous and the steady natures of marriage go round and round allowing love to grow stronger and stronger, year after year.
Copyright 2010 Heidi Bratton