Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why NFP is Great for Men, Too

This month's guest blogger on Natural Family Planning is more forthright and funny about sexuality than I usually am, and this difference in perspective is exactly what makes him such a terrific guest! Meet Daniel Stewart, aka Daniel Bearman, who describes himself as "a Catholic dad from the deep south who loves ultramarathons, okra, books, tattoos, beer, and Jesus." He blogs here and his wife Haley blogs at the well-known Carrots for Michaelmas. Enjoy!

I thought I’d jump in here and list a few things I like about NFP. Obviously, this is all from my experience so I’m not speaking for or to every man ever. But it's a fun list!

1. NFP doesn’t make fertility a “women’s problem.” Obviously, it takes two to tango. And it takes two to have sex and make a baby (See what I did there? You thought I was just going to use a weird euphemism for sex but then I just went ahead and said “sex”). But, more than that, fertility isn’t just something women need to worry about. As a man, I’m like, a good 50% of the equation here. Maybe even more because my fertility is pretty constant. Whatever the percentage, my wife and I are in this together. And NFP is a recognition of that. We abstain together and we work together to understand and plan our sex life.
2. I get to understand what’s going on with my wife’s body. I remember three things from my sex ed class in 10th grade: they passed around a set of rubber testicles (I can’t remember why), they showed us the horrible aftermath of sexually transmitted diseases, and the girls and guys were completely separated the entire time. I’m sure our segregation had something to do with the rubber testicles and was probably a wise decision. But this style of sex ed also set the tone for the way most men approach fertility. “What did the girls learn in the other room? What mysteries were revealed? I have no idea! But I’m certain they did more than pass around rubber organs. WHAT DO THEY KNOW?! There’s no way for us males to find out. We were in THIS room with the pictures of STDs!”  But now I CAN find out. The door has been opened! I can read up on types of NFP or just talk with my wife about what’s going on with her and her cycle. I still avoid the word “ovulating” but I’ll grow up someday.
3. I get to support my wife in this (big) part of our relationship. When my wife was on the pill, I always felt like that was kind of her thing. What could I do? Tell her “good job” for taking a pill? Remind her in a patronizing way? But, with NFP, I feel more connected with my wife because we’re both involved. I mean, I don’t chart for her. But I’m still involved in both understanding our fertility and abstaining when it’s necessary. As for the whole charting thing, my wife applies a lot of effort to that and does a great job. So I get to support and encourage her in this. I’ll admit, that’s something I don’t do enough of. Sorry!
4. Sex without contraceptives is better. I mean this in both a narrow sense and a broader sense. Sex with condoms is… not that great. At least, not compared to sex without them. Any guy who has had sex both with and without condoms knows this. But I don’t think we’re supposed to talk about it because this would somehow support “unsafe sex.” I don’t promote unsafe sex, of course. I actually promote the safest sex of all, the sex that takes place within a monogamous relationship. But if Outkast won’t talk about how much better sex is without condoms, I guess I shouldn’t either. There’s also other practicals like how chemical birth control affects hormones. Surprise! Hormones are important! Other issues impact all of this too. But, without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that our sex life is a lot more awesome now than it was when we used birth control. Now, more broadly, sex without contraceptives involves a complete view of sex that is more satisfying and unifying. I’ve written about this before on this post for my wife’s blog.
So, if you’re a man, don’t be scared of NFP. There are plenty of things in the upside column. And, hey!, no one is going to make you hold rubber testicles.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Plight of a Strong Woman Looking for a Good Husband: Eve's Apple

Today I'm thrilled to join a book tour publicizing Eve's Apple, a riveting spiritual memoir written by Marie Therese Kceif, who contributed this month's post in the How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some series. First person to comment on this blogpost gets a free e-copy of Eve's Apple!

The more educated and professionally successful a woman is, the harder it is for her to find a husband, or so it often seems. Equally driven men may turn a relationship into a debilitating power struggle. But a strong woman may lose respect for a man willing to follow her lead. What's the cause of the conundrum, and what's the solution?

Those questions lie at the heart of the recent memoir Eve's Apple by Marie Therese Kceif (not the author's real name). By any standard, this former Army captain would be classified as an intense over-achiever. Her college schedule reads like a self-imposed boot camp: up at 5:00 a.m., swim practice, ROTC fitness workout, ballet class, academic classes, second swim practice with weight training, jog to work, jog back to the dorm, study, night class, and bike training. Marie explains, "It never occurred to me that I couldn't do it all. I just thought I had to try harder."

Marie's first marriage was to Jason, a man willing to take her lead and follow her from Army base to Army base as she completed flight school, ferried generals and royals around Central Europe to secret negotiations, faced hardship and ambush in Somalia, and became the first woman in the U.S. Army to command an active duty attack unit. All the while, Marie earned top evaluations and consistently ranked as the most physically fit of any soldier -- male or female -- in her training class.

Although she felt stirrings of a simple desire to be a wife and mother, Marie squelched them. Focusing on her own glory, not God's, as she explains it, Marie slowly drifted away from her husband Jason and eventually became unfaithful. Through an extramarital affair with an aggressive and driven "top gun" pilot named Cruz, Marie unexpectedly became pregnant and asked her husband for a divorce. Jason acquiesced, suffering mainly in silence.

Marie then married Cruz, a man almost opposite in personality to her first husband, and found herself in the middle of an unmitigated disaster. Because their relationship was considered to be fraternization, they were thrust out of the Army and into civilian life. Stiflingly traditional in his expectations and jealous of Marie's ability to attract job offers, Cruz attempted to dominate Marie both physically and mentally. He demeaned, belittled, and beat her, going so far as to half-strangle her on more than one occasion. In her memoir, Marie explains:
It may be hard for some, even for myself, to understand the extreme poles of power I have experienced. I went from being a commander in the attack Army Cavalry to being an abused working mother. After much thought, I believe I ended up on both ends of the spectrum because of my deep-rooted sense of needing to be self-reliant in all things. ... Self-reliance was proving itself to be an unsafe authority and a poor guide.
After a torturous saga involving women's shelters, jail time, bankruptcy, and divorce, Marie finally let go of her self-reliance and reached out to God. Praying from the depths of her soul for aid and comfort, Marie began the long journey home to Jesus' loving arms. Through answered prayers almost miraculous in their specificity, Marie found a job, a home, and a good man named Samuel.

Marie's new-found trust in God allowed her to escape from the poisonous dynamic of having to control a man or be controlled by one. With Samuel, she learned "to surrender to healthy guidance" from a man who wanted what was best for them both. She came back to her Catholic faith, received annulments of her previous marriages, and convalidated her marriage to Samuel -- a happy marriage which has now lasted for more than 10 years. Marie explains the immense difference in her relationship with Samuel:

I was used to being in charge, calling the shots, and being at the helm, even when the burden was too heavy for me. ... I was learning I could be powerful and useful without being the one in charge or in the limelight. Over time this concept has been liberating, relieving me of a burden I didn't need to carry.
Call me a troglodyte if you want, but I think there's something deep inside a woman that wants a man to take the lead. Maybe this is what the Bible means in Genesis when it says to Eve that "your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you" (Gn 3:16). Or maybe this is what St. Paul means in Ephesians when he says that the husband is the head of the wife (Eph 5:23).

But as the Holy Family shows us. being the head doesn't mean being the best. Mary was fully capable of leading the Holy Family. Both she and Joseph knew who was "better" or more "full of grace" in the eyes of God. But as a sign of her love and trust in him, Mary followed where Joseph led. There was time enough for Mary's strength to shine during Jesus' public ministry after Joseph had presumably died. During Joseph's life, Mary surrendered to what the author of Eve's Apple might call healthy husbandly guidance, and in so doing left a model for generations of strong women to emulate.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How to Stay Married 10 Years & Then Some, Third Time Around: Divorce & Remarriage Edition

After two failed marriages, Marie Therese Kceif found love again with her husband Samuel and faith again through the Catholic Church. A successful automotive plant manager and Army pilot who served combat time in Somalia, Marie nonetheless suffered through physical and emotional abuse, bankruptcy, and heart-wrenching divorces. She tells her poignant story in Eve's Apple, which I'll be reviewing next week (FIRST PERSON TO COMMENT ON THIS BLOGPOST WINS A FREE E-COPY)! Marie has now been happily married to her husband Samuel for 11 years.  They live in Michigan where Marie spends time writing, speaking, leading Bible studies, lectoring, teaching RCIA, gardening, sailing, hiking and bicycling.

1. How many years were you married and how many kids do you have?

I have been married 11 years to Samuel, my current husband. I have 2 boys from a previous marriage: Mitchell Dean who is 19 years old and attending college at (NMU) Northern Michigan University, and Michael John who is 17 years old and a junior in high school.

2. What three things contributed most to the break-up of your two previous marriages?

1) Living together before marriage: “A couple who does not live together prior to getting married has a 20 percent chance of being divorced within five years. If the couple has lived together beforehand, that number jumps to 49 percent.” (US Attorney Legal Services)

In both my first two marriages, I lived with my boyfriends before marrying them. This led to us having a mine vs. yours and not an ours-type attitude. Things like having separate bank accounts, bills, etc, sets in motion what the marriage commitment in the physical, mental and emotional realm will look like. It cements as a habit in the mind and heart the idea that the commitment does not have to be permanent nor self-sacrificial and can always be on a trial basis. It does not allow for a full surrender to self-sacrifice in love, but one that says, “If I don’t feel in love any more, if it is too hard for me or not fun enough, I can leave. You are expendable to me.”  The commitment of a marriage says in good times or in bad til death do we part. But if you start out with a trial marriage, you keep thinking on some level that the partners always can leave if it gets too hard.

2) Having premarital sex:  With both of my first two marriages, I also had premarital sex. This clouded my discerning process into whether the other was the right fit for me. My husband Samuel and I call it the “pink sunglass syndrome.” By saying yes with my body, but saying maybe and even perhaps no with my heart and mind, I was sending mixed signals not only to myself but to my partner.

Chastity is an “apprenticeship of self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear:either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy" (CCC 2339). Chastity creates a unity of our mind and body while dating. It allows us to be free from the physical passions and enslavement to them and therefore leaves us free to decide with a clear mind. (CCC 1603, 2338, 2340)

I did not make clear decisions in my previous relationships. Rather, after making love, I felt I had given myself bodily to these men and now needed to fully commit to them regardless if it was a good idea.

3) Not being in my Catholic faith:  In both my first two marriages, we did not go to church at all in most cases. Without being close to my faith, my conscience became dulled to right vs. wrong. Gray areas became wider, and this allowed me to be self-seeking and self-justifying instead of self-giving in love and truth.  Being far from my faith distorted what love truly is and should be and what truth is.

Jesus is Truth and Love -- in fact, He taught us that someone who truly loves would even die a horrible death from torture and would sacrifice His whole life even to death on a cross, even for those who did not return that love. I was very far from understanding that kind of love or practicing it for others because I was not around people who believed that way.  “We become who we hang around with,” I always tell my boys, because I learned this by experience the hard way.

Perhaps I even avoided the Church so that my conscience wouldn't urge me away from the gray areas. The self without guidance from God seeks what it wants for itself. I needed to die to self and live for God. The only way I could do this was by being in and around His Holy Church, the Way that He left for us to become holy.

Marriage is supposed to be the reflection of Jesus’ marriage to His Church. He gave His life for her to make her holy, and for that she respects Him. So it is in and through the Church that our marriages have the best chance to be taught and nurtured and encouraged to reflect that holy union between Jesus and his Bride.

3. What role did your faith play in your healing after divorce?

After divorce, I hit a bottom which God allowed me to find. It was good for me to have all my worldly crutches to be taken from my grasp. Then, I only had recourse to prayer. In calling out to Jesus, I found a friend who had not abandoned me in my worst time. He was faithful though I was not. He loved me though I hadn’t loved him.

When I reached out to Jesus, He started to set my feet on solid ground. I started to learn His Word through bible studies in which I made great friends who supported me and pointed me to retreats where I found answers. Jesus answered my prayers not only for my spiritual needs, but also my physical needs. I started to learn I needed to wait on God for what He knew was best for me, not forcing what I thought I wanted.  Through learning I could trust in God through faith, I started to see He was a great friend who brought me to a peace I had never known. He brought me to a surrendered holiness in the midst of uncertainty, a peace that no man could take from me, a solidity that I could count on. Faith brought me back to His holy sacraments of reconciliation where He restored, affirmed, forgave and loved me.

Faith allowed me to go back and correct many of the mistakes I had made. It led me to physical healing, when I underwent  a tubal ligation reversal. Ultimately, faith has brought me to life…life that comes only through Christ.

Without faith, I went through 2 divorces, bankruptcy, and foreclosure. I lost my career, my status, my self-respect and my respect from others. I was mired in  the confusion and insecurity of the world. With faith, I went through the healing of the annulment process, remarriage, reversal of tubal ligation, reconciliation with God and His Church through the sacraments. I was restored to belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, financial stability, ownership of my home, respected  status in my community, and many, many miracles in my life made possible only through faith in Jesus.

4. What advice would you give people who are dating and considering marriage?

Do not live together or have premarital sex, but rather pray for discernment for what God wants for your life.  If you have already had premarital sex, go to confession and abstain, giving God your trust so that you can have clear hearts and minds to hear what God is trying to say. He will show you the right direction for your life.

Actively seek out advice and listen to holy people and to His Holy Church. Stay close to God by going to Church and mass weekly, frequent confession, be holy for your future spouse, giving them the best partner they deserve as a help for them to become holy.

Make it a habit to pray together. As Mother Teresa said, "The family that prays together stays together, and if they stay together they will love one another as God has loved each one of them. And works of love are always works of peace" - and - “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God's gift of himself.”

5. What advice would you give newlyweds?

Some is similar to the advice for dating couples, actually. Make a habit to pray together. It may be awkward at first, but as time goes on it will be the mainstay of your marriage. Go to Mass or church weekly. Have good holy friends, but be comfortable spending time with just your spouse. Too much time with friends can be dangerous; a couple needs to learn how to enjoy quality time just being together. Never spend time alone with a friend who is the opposite sex. It may start out innocently, but it sparks jealousy and is not healthy for a marriage.

Try to find a volunteer or charitable activity to do together, and learn how to be joyful while doing it. For example, serving at a soup kitchen can be very rewarding. Make a date night for just the two of you at least once every other week if not weekly - it doesn’t even have to entail spending money - maybe a long bicycle ride or a walk in the neighborhood park or a museum. Actively work on pursuing your spouse so love stays fresh.

Unplug the TV. In fact, my best advice is to not have one at all. Samuel and I did not have one in our marriage and it was a great impetus simply to do things together. It also sets the tone for children when they come. On that note, set a limit to computer, Internet and game-playing time as well, as that can really have a negative effect on a marriage.

Every day, even if it’s a hard day, find something you are thankful for that he or she does for your marriage and tell them you appreciate them for it. Gratitude does wonders for a marriage and for you. Never go to sleep angry, try to at least come to some kind of civil agreement before going to sleep. Listen before speaking, and do not cut off each other in arguments. Do a daily examination of conscience; this will make you face the truth about yourself so that you can be a better spouse.

6. What's your top parenting tip for mothers and fathers going through a divorce?

Do not use children as pawns for your anger. They are the innocent ones, ones you are responsible for before God. Do not speak badly about the other parent, but rather pray for them even if it is hard. Pray for them even with the children in a positive way. The only things you say about the other parent should be positive or constructive.

Ask God to help you forgive, forget and heal for the sake of the family. Make sure you keep taking your children to church, continue to show them they are loved. Children in many divorce cases think it’s their fault; they need to be reassured that they are secure in the love of both parents. Never argue in front of them if possible. Continue to set boundaries and discipline for the children. They don't need gifts motivated by guilt, they need real love and a safe environment which includes old fashioned parenting. There can be a tendency to be too lenient, to become their friend during and after divorce. Children in the middle of a divorce do not need you to be a friend, they need you to be a parent.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Marriage Rx: How to Balance a New Marriage and a New Job

In the latest Marriage Rx column from me and hubby Manuel P. Santos, M.D., we talk about the difficulties of work/life balance, especially when you're a newlywed.

Question: Hello, my name is Sean, and I am a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. I am currently engaged, and will be getting married this summer, presumably around the same time I will be beginning my first full-time job in Accounting. I was wondering if you had advice for balancing both a new career and the newness of the sacrament of marriage. What are good strategies to balancing time and attention? What are some common pitfalls to avoid?

The idea of not bringing work home is something I want to strive for -- would you recommend staying later at the office if necessary or would you consider that more of a case by case situation? Clearly being home on time and leaving work at work would be ideal, but as an entry level accountant, I know that busy seasons will demand a few more hours each week and I would love to have a good game plan in place before that becomes a reality. -- Sean H.

Answer: Sean, we're impressed by how much you’ve thought things through already. It will be
great preparation for the future! It's hard to know how to give God and our family top priority when we need to work 40 or more hours a week. But it can be done.

The most important thing is to devote all your attention to your spouse when you're together. Especially if your time is limited, make it count! Little family rituals like sharing a cup of coffee in the morning before you leave for work, always calling at lunchtime just to say hi, and taking some time in the evening to talk can make a big difference.

You can combine prayer time with together time, too. In the morning, thank God for bringing you into each other's lives. At noon, take a few minutes to pray the Angelus, a traditional Catholic prayer that combines Scripture and the Hail Mary. At nighttime, you can pray a decade of the rosary together or petition God for help in making tomorrow an even better day.

The most common pitfall to avoid is coming home later than you said you would, especially if your wife is cooking dinner for you! Sometimes work runs later than planned and coming home late is unavoidable, but let your wife know as soon as you can. Few things are more disappointing than having a hot meal ready on the table and then finding out that no one will be home to eat it for at least another hour.

Working in a field like accounting, which has a regular busy season, can actually be easier to handle than a field like law or medicine where emergencies can arise without notice. Ask your co-workers exactly when the busy season tends to hit and how many hours per day they usually work. If everyone else is working a 10-hour day, plan on working the same. If everyone else is working a 12-hour day, ditto. If your wife would prefer you home in the evenings, consider starting work at 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. so you can still make it home at a reasonable hour.

A lot of employers will take all the time you have to give and then some. "In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week," says 20-Something Finance. Some employers won't even keep you around unless you're willing to work what seems like exorbitant hours. But in most cases, you can set boundaries. If you make it clear that you won't work on Sundays, for example, and you work reliably and productively the rest of the time, most employers will accept that. You might also be able to set one night a week, even during busy season, where you'll be home on time for dinner no matter what.

Working from home can be a blessing or a curse. If you're a workaholic, work can take over all the time that you could be spending with your spouse. On the other hand, if it's the only way you can get your work done and still make it to the out-of-town weekend you planned to spend with your in-laws, it can get you out of a jam. Just make sure you check with your employer first. Especially with sensitive financial data, your employer may not want anyone working outside the office.

Our last tip is to make sure you schedule a vacation when busy time is over so that you and your wife can spend some much needed time recharging and reconnecting. When you're working hard it helps to remember that you're working to make a better life for yourself and your family. Make sure you take the time to enjoy it when you can!