My husband and I went to the same high school, but at the time we showed little interest in each other. It was at university, where we shared the same student residence, that we began to see each other more often; and that is how it all started. We attended meetings regularly at the university chaplaincy. Martin made no pretence of the fact that he went mainly because of me, although he was a man of exceptional faith. As for me, I had been a member of the Catholic Youth Movement since high school, and often went on spiritual retreats in the summer.
After our fourth year of university, we decided to go on a pilgrimage to Czestochowa. The idea appealed to us. On our next pilgrimage we decided to get married; in fact, we felt very strongly that our wedding should take place during that very pilgrimage. We decided we would make our wedding vows at the diocesan shrine, which our group was planning to visit on the second day of the pilgrimage. We informed our parents of our decision. They were against the idea, but under the circumstances this was not surprising. Still, they had no choice but to accept our plans. We had finished our studies, held good jobs, and were financially independent. The bus carrying our wedding guests arrived at the shrine. After the ceremony we had a reception, to which we invited not only our families, but the entire pilgrimage.
I thank God that from the very start of our relationship we had a strong desire to remain chaste for marriage. After our first deep kiss, I went to consult my parish priest, as I was convinced I had committed a sin. To my surprise, the priest put my mind at rest. I learned about Natural Family Planning (NFP) during a summer retreat while still at university. I learned to take my temperature and chart my menstrual cycle. I also consulted with a woman at a counseling center. I knew this was an important part of preparing for marriage.
When our emotional bond had sufficiently deepened, I informed Martin of my wish to remain a virgin until our wedding day and then to conduct our sexual relations in line with the teachings of the Church. Fortunately, we were of one mind on this matter. Thanks to my religious formation (acquired through the Catholic Youth Movement and various spiritual retreats and pilgrimages), I had developed a deep sense of trust in Mother Church and a conviction that if you believe in Jesus you cannot but choose to think and act in line with the teachings of the Church, which He founded under Peter’s visible headship (Matt 16:14-19). My husband was likewise guided by a strong desire to obey the Ten Commandments and the will of the Creator. Intuitively, he felt that chastity in and out of marriage was worth the sacrifice; indeed, he saw it as a value in itself. And so we set our goal before us: to save our virginity for our wedding day and thus to offer each other the most beautiful wedding gift of all. It was by no means easy, for our courtship lasted four and a half years; still, we made it.
After several years of marriage (we had two children by then), we began to notice that something was not right with our sex life. I often had the feeling of being violated. I withdrew into myself. My husband would become irritated, and I would give in to him. We began to sleep in separate beds. Often I would sleep with the children. Something was definitely wrong. And so it continued until the day that a copy of LOA fell into our hands. The magazine contained a testimony written by a married couple. Martin saw the article first. I do not remember the authors, but the piece had to do with marital chastity. After reading the article, Martin read it to me aloud. Suddenly we understood the cause of our tensions and misunderstandings. Our problems were due to lack of consistency. Yes, we were using NFP, but we were also allowing ourselves certain liberties—playing “dodge ball” on fertile days; in fact, we had sex whenever we wanted, and then salved our conscience with the thought that, after all, we were not using artificial contraceptives
That article proved to be an eye-opener for both of us. Of course there was rebellion at first, but after the emotions had died down, we saw how reasonable the case put forward in the article was. The very next day we established a principle of no compromise: sexual relations only on infertile days or on fertile days when we had decided to have another baby—nothing more, and no cheating! It took about three weeks before we saw any “results.” An indescribable freshness began to make itself felt in our relationship. All our fears and doubts about being able to abstain from sex for a fortnight or so proved groundless. That the quality of our sexual intimacy has radically improved can be gauged by the fact that it is now I who “violate” my husband, while he has to run away, totally exhausted! Toward the end of each fertile period, we look forward to each other with a renewed freshness. We desire each other just as we did during the time of our engagement. The woman’s cycle is ideally “designed.” With the onset of every new fertile period, just when the couple grow to feel sated with physical intimacy, it offers them a fortnight’s rest.
Chaste marital relations always require an element of service and a good deal of mutual sacrifice. At first this must come from the woman’s side. Upon her falls the burden of learning the NFP methods, consulting experts, and charting her cycle. I accepted this as my part for the sake of our marriage. Now that we have corrected the inconsistency described above and our relations are on an even keel again, the need to abstain from physical intimacy for two weeks every cycle requires another sacrifice (this time the burden falls on the husband). But I think I am honest in saying that neither of us sees it as a sacrifice any more, but as the natural expression of the love that unites us—a love that grows ever more pure and unblemished.
True, there have been times of greater sacrifice. After the birth of each of our children we abstained from sexual intimacy until the onset of my first period (in the case of our last child, we abstained for eight months). That was a great hardship, but it offered us an opportunity for greater sacrifice, and thus to strengthen our union still more. We prayed a great deal for the grace of perseverance. By accepting this sacrifice, we made good our intention to grow in affection for each other and persevere in love. We also prayed for our children, especially our newborn.
We have three children, and are now about to have another. Except for our parish priest (who also our spiritual director) no one knows about it yet.
Barbara & Martin