Why Marriages Disintegrate When Contraception Is Used


Can the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and of Holy Communion provide special graces to strengthen the couple in their married life? As Familiaris Consortio mentions, "The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage." It is here that "Christian spouses encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows, is interiorly structured, and continuously renewed."22 Can they experience God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? As Pope Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae:

And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged, but rather let them have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is poured forth in the sacrament of Penance. In this way. they will be able to achieve the fullness of married life described by the Apostle: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church."23

The very nature of a commitment to contraception, to abortion and sterilization places obstacles against the operations of the sacraments, at least in the area of strengthening the marriage. If the couple, with the help of the sacraments, rejects the practices mentioned, then the sacraments can operate to their full capacity according to the condition of the recipient. But neither the Eucharist nor the Sacrament of Reconciliation can confirm a couple to live together contraceptively, to perform abortions, or to strengthen the will to adhere to contraception by sterilization. If the couple are in the state of supernatural grace and remain ignorant of the evil of their practices, they may be helped in various ways through the sacraments. But help from God specifically directed toward confirming the faithful to be happy and faithful in a contraceptive way of life is off limits. Consequently we can conclude in general that contracepting couples are undernourished supernaturally.

We can be sure that Christ did not invent the sacraments for unimportant reasons. He knows how necessary the graces of the sacraments are for Christians in all walks of life, including the performance of their duties as married people. When couples block out for several decades of their married lives the essential graces of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the supporting graces of Holy Communion and Penance by the obstacle of committing their wills to contraception, their marital love may starve to death or hover near extinction from lack of spiritual nutrition. Since the "booster dynamism" of grace under such conditions is minimal, the love of the couple may not survive accumulating difficulties.

The absence of God's active presence during contraceptive intercourse may spill over into the couple's psychological and emotional perceptions and cause great mischief there. This is a time when a couple is supposed to be at its best. At a time when intercourse is supposed to be an experience which fuses the two into a new unity of one flesh, integrating them into the universal order, where they catch fleeting glances of a world beyond the usual experience of mortals and become clairvoyant and find or awaken in each other realities not seen before, the absence of God can be oppressively burdensome. Try as they might, God does not allow them to share His own intimacies at these precious moments. God does not admire them at this time, and this lack can become a black hole which drains away even natural joys. There is too little joy in their love if they cannot perceive an uplifting approval from God. Disappointment may then turn love to disrespect and hatred, such as Amnon's compulsive hatred for the presence of Tamar after he raped her.

The high degree of sensitivity of partners for each other during intercourse, becoming sometimes even clairvoyant, may be a brutal test of mutual esteem. Here they perceive each other as they are: bare, naked, unable to hide deceptions. At such moments ambivalent attitudes toward the correctness of contraception cause trouble. Where there is no certainty about truth, where there is falsehood, even self deception, ugliness appears. It is static interfering with a Beethoven Symphony. It is counterfeit love. The experience which should have pulled them free from the grip of selfcenteredness is uncovered as a fraud. The next day the couple find themselves farther from each other than before. Sometimes they may hate each other, as Amnon felt revulsion for Tamar. Perhaps each seeks in the other a true child of God, sincere and genuine to the core; but they somehow perceive that God is not with the other in the act, and that leaves only a bundle of uninteresting humanity. Man is not satisfied easily without God, especially not if high expectations have been awakened.


Much as husband and wife may try to love each other with the love of God through sexual intercourse - that is, with supernatural charity - they are impotent in this respect. This follows from the nature of the supernatural habit of charity, infused by God as an abiding habit and activated by God's power when the virtue is practiced. St. Thomas puts the question "Whether one who has already obtained grace, can, of himself and without further help of grace, do good and avoid evil?" His response is negative:

I answer that, as stated above (A.5) in order to live righteously a man needs a twofold help of God - first a habitual gift whereby corrupted human nature is healed, and after being healed is lifted up so as to work deeds meritorious of everlasting fife, which exceed the capability of nature. Secondly, man needs the help of grace in order to be moved by God to act.

Now with regard to the first kind of help, man does not need further help of grace, e.g., a further infused habit. Yet he needs the help of grace in another way, i.e., in order to be moved by God to act righteously, and this for two reasons: first, for the general reason that no created thing can put forth any act, unless by virtue of the Divine motion.24

He goes on to explain that even though the habit of love has been infused, the will remains weak and the intellect remains in the darkness of ignorance, and therefore man needs God's help to do any supernatural good.

The infused theological habit of charity enables us to love God for His own sake and our neighbor for God's sake. Moreover St. Thomas explains that the action by which we love our neighbor for God's sake is the same as the one by which we love God:

Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor.25

Since God's grace is needed to love one's neighbor with supernatural love, for His sake, it follows that His grace is absolutely necessary if husband and wife are to love each other in God during sexual intercourse. But God cannot give that grace through an act which is evil. Therefore, lovers who attempt supernatural charity through contraceptive intercourse find themselves impotent in this endeavor. Try as they might with human means, they cannot grasp what God does not give. Couples, while contracepting, cannot love each other in God. They do not have the faculty to do so.

We ask whether God might at least be able to give grace to partners to love each other through the act of intercourse if they are subjectively ignorant of the of the evil of contraception. [This part is revised and amplified by the author in August 2000.] Here let us tread carefully. We may perhaps hope that God "holds His nose to avoid the stench of evil" and in general confirms the love which the couple try to cultivate in their ignorance. In general means at times and places in ordinary family life which are isolated from the evil contraceptive acts. We may hope optimistically that God will be generous with His graces to couples who practice contraception in invincible ignorance of its evil. But there may be a great deficit of graces due to their stoppage during the most critical area of their marriage. God cannot give His grace to perfect the couples through contraceptive acts. Grace will be lacking to them where they ought to receive it. The years of contraception will be like years of insufficient rain to produce a full harvest for farmers. Farmers suffer from drought years though the loss is not total, and couples suffer from a drought of graces during every year they habitually contracept. God cannot cooperate in the evil act of contraception itself in order to achieve good for the couple. The couple may not perceive that their contraceptive act is evil, but God sees that it is objectively evil, although the intentions of the couple may be good. Contraceptive intercourse is seen to be what it is in the light of Eternal Wisdom, where there are no shadows, only light. Eternal Wisdom is very perceptive indeed, as the following passage expresses so well:

For in her is a spirit intelligent, holy unique, Manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain, Not baneful, loving the good, keen, unhampered beneficent, kindly, Firm, secure, tranquil, all-powerful, all-seeing, And pervading all spirits, though they be intelligent, pure and very subtle.

For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion, and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity. For she is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness (Wisdom 7, 22-26).

Beautiful words these, reflecting realities as they are in God. After all, it was God who created man and woman, and He ought to know what actions are in harmony with their natures, and which are not. And His Wisdom cannot give support to evil actions, even those performed by ignorant people. Eternal law comes as necessarily from Divine Wisdom as the existence of Wisdom itself. St. Thomas defines eternal law as "the type of Divine Wisdom, as directing all actions and movements" (ratio divinae sapientiae, secundum quod est directiva omnium actuum et motionum).26 The decree against contraception is directed and made law by Divine Wisdom in accordance with the inner laws of necessity and truth.

To attract God towards their marriage act a couple must act wisely with sophistication worthy of children of Divine Wisdom. God has made the marriage act beautiful. It is the poetry of life, as the Holy Spirit described it through halting human terms in the Song of Songs:

He brings me into the banquet hall and his emblem over me is love. Strengthen me with raisin cakes refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love. His left hand is under my head and his right arm embraces me. I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and hinds of the field Do not arouse, do not stir up love
before its own time (2, 4-7).

By intercourse, a couple can develop their lives together into the music of life. Even quarrels can be transformed into a Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, where the rushing wind, flashing lightning, the bolts of thunder and streaming rains are made to flow as melody of surpassing beauty. God can dwell there, for He is sheer beauty, utter sanctity.


Dr. Poltawska uses the therapy of natural family planning for her clients whose marriage is in trouble from use of contraception. And she knows that this is an effective cure, if the couple is willing to follow directions. The woman's task, she says, is to first become acquainted with herself, "with the precise activity of the woman's organism which is univocally and utterly directed towards motherhood." She should next show all her womanly self to her husband as a fascinating fairy-tale to his admiration and astonishment. With good knowledge about the cycle, which both husband and wife know well, she can then entrust herself to him in confidence and without fear of a child. Dr. Poltawska provides education in making love without having intercourse - education in touching, in seeing, and in speaking. She assures us that from the moment the problem of fertility control is solved correctly and is mastered, "the inner progress of the couple which was formerly checked by their contraceptive attitude, starts again. Love develops now, mature and deep, and unselfish. A communion of persons is achieved."27

Mother Teresa is correct, I am sure, in perceiving that natural family planning is part of the package deal needed for improving family life everywhere. She is well aware of the problems, being in immediate touch with many people, and especially the poor, who tell her everything. She told 20 million television viewers in Japan that:

so many poor people have said to me ... that from the time we are practicing this way of life, of natural family planning, our family his remained united, our family is healthy, and we can have a baby whenever we like. And it has brought so much peace and unity in the life of our poor people. That is something so beautiful to see.28

The discipline of NFP is finally beginning : to spread in places where inspired teachers and users help each other. Dr. Lawrence Kane, Executive Director of the Human Life and Natural Family Planning Foundation, estimates that 100,000 new couples per year begin the practice of NFP in the United States. Mother Teresa's sisters, spread over 100 convents in many countries, have a rule that one sister in each convent must be a teacher of NFP. In Japan the Japan Family Life Association is working with many midwives and nurses and hope that in future mothers will be able to learn NFP at many or all of the nation's 870 public health centers.


The practices of contraception, abortion, and sterilization have invaded a vast number of families - perhaps half of mankind now in the fertile years. Simultaneously, divorce and marital difficulties have reached, or are moving towards, epidemic proportions globally. Data and evidence point to a connection, between the two. But where natural family planning is practiced, there is no similar evidence of divorce and strife. Instead there is stability of marriage and peace in the household.

Our mandate is clear: to help families today, we must make knowledge about natural family planning available on a global scale. Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio goes even further, calling us to make accessible to all married people and to all young adults before marriage, adequate teaching about natural family planning.29


1  Dr. med. Wanda Poltawska has been invited several times by the Japan Family Life Association to lecture in Japan, and on these occasions she delivered much of the material which follows. She used an English language manuscript which is not published but which has been published in the Japanese language and was delivered earlier in the Polish language at A Scientific Conference on Family Life held at The Institute for the Theology of the Family in Krakow, Poland, February, 1976, where Cardinal Karol Woityla also lectured and preached.

Much of the same material can be found in Dr. Poltawska's two articles in the book Natural Family Planning, Nature's Way-God's Way (Milwaukee, De Rance Foundation. 1980). 1 was the coordinator for the production of the book, which was done by the Japan Family Life Association. [Back]

2 Population Reports, the John's Hopkins University, May -June. 1982. [Back]

3 Population Reports, July, 1982. [Back]

4 See Dorothy L. Nortman, "Sterilization and the Birth Rate" in Studies in Family Planning, The Population Council, New York, Sept.-Oct. 1980. [Back]

5 Population Reports, April. 1991. [Back]

6 Population Reports, May-June, 1902. [Back]

7 Population Reports, July, 1982. [Back]

8 Population Reports, May-June. 1982. [Back]

9 Cf. Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI. July 25. 1968. [Back]

10 Dr. med. H.P. Dunn, lecture at the Human Life Center, St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. United States, June, 19110. See "Newsletter," October, 1980. [Back]

11 William E. May, "The Logic of Love. " in Fidelity, May, 1982. This new magazine has very pointed and excellent articles. [Back]

13 Poltawska, paper cited. [Back]

14 Poltawska, "The Psychology and Psychopathology of Fertility" in Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way, pp. 128 131. [Back]

15 Nona Aguilar No Pill-No Risk Birth Control ,Rawson and Wade, New York, 1980, p. 102. The writer heard from Miss Aguilar that many NFP user couples learned the advantages only gradually. [Back]

16 Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way, p. 48. [Back]

17 Monthly Statistics of Japan, Statistic Bureau of the Prime Minister. [Back]

18 National Center for Health Statistics, Washington. [Back]

19 Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way, pp. 26-27. [Back]

20 Casti Connubii, Pope Pius XI. Dec. 31, 1930. No. 40. [Back]

21 Summa Theologica, 1-11 qu.79 a.l. [Back]

22 Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II, Feast of Christ the King, 1981. No. 57. [Back]

23 Humanae Vitae, No. 25. [Back]

24 Summa Theologica, 1-11 qu. 109. a. 9. [Back]

25 Summa Theologica, 11-11. qu. 25. a. 1. [Back]

26 Summa Theologica, 1-11, qu. 93, a. 1. [Back]

27 Poltawska, unpublished paper. see note 1. [Back]

28 Mother Teresa, Japan National Broadcasting Telecast, April 24, 1981. [Back]

29 Familiaris Consortio, No. 33. [Back]

1, 2,