Conversations with Dr. Meyer on Healing Marriages

Anthony Zimmerman
June 6, 1985
Edited by Fr. Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission



When Dr. med. Bernharda Meyer sent me her text and asked that I edit it for publication, she confronted me with a rare opportunity but also with a problem. The opportunity was to learn from a practicing psychiatrist insights about real life of married couples which she articulates in a masterful manner. The problem: she moved from Germany to Canada at the age of 50 and writes an exuberant but heaped together English which is not easy to edit. She also floats from one subject to another when zeal enthuses. Her heart races faster than her typewriter can follow, as she is all doctor, all missionary, all healer. Be patient with me as I try to offer her profound perceptions, things which provided me with a "shotgun education" on marital problems and the ease with which they can be healed when couples generate the will to do so through pastoral and psychiatric guidance. Unless I make my own interventions, the explanations presented are those of Dr. Meyer.

Learn your bodies by using NFP

My advice to couples is: learn about your bodies and your fertility cycles. It is important for both- husband and wife. In a sense, WE ARE OUR BODIES, so by knowing the body and the cycle, we know much more about ourselves.

Once you discover the wonders of the fertility cycle, you become conscious in awe and admiration of the tremendous gift of your gender-dominated bodies. And with discovery acceptance becomes easier. I've seen this over and over.

Wives accept more easily the discomforts of menstruation when husbands share the knowledge. Husbands live more comfortably with their sexual libido, spontaneous ejaculations, and various degrees of tension, when wives share this knowledge about their couple-fertility. Physical aspects become part of the banquet of life enjoyed together in the spirit. Admiration of the other's gifts increases respect for oneself in the other, and is reflected back to re-enforce self-respect. The two acknowledge their gifts together in gratitude to the Creator who has endowed them with the beautiful gifts of the nuptial body-psyche.

Learn all about your couple-fertility in order to spare useless expense and trouble. If you know your cycle well, you won't need to pay expensive and time-consuming visits to outside counselors in a search for that ever-elusive perfect contraceptive. No need to treat your body as a guinea pig by experimenting with contraceptives; no need for unpleasant side-effects, for unscheduled surprises. First learn to know your body, your shared cycle. Then by living in positive harmony with the signs which you should know well, you can be confident and at peace. In mutual agreement with your couple-shared cycle, your marriage can sparkle and sing.

I say again, spare yourselves the time in waiting-rooms and hospitals to be refitted, or to be subscribed yet another formula. Use that time better by learning the cycle at home. Give your doctor time for other things; instead of working on your problem of family planning, he should have full time to work at his profession of healing diseases.

To explore the fantastically interesting aspects of the wife's fertility cycle is a cause of joy for an admiring husband. The wife must show herself to him, introduce him into her world. He should learn all about reading the signs and understanding what they mean, and then interpret them for planning the family. And he should support her strongly so that she can lean on his strength and knowledge, and they can follow their plans successfully.

NFP is a home-spun, couple-shared method of family planning, carried out by the strength and conviction of husband and wife. In the past maybe it was mainly the wife who made the decisions about whether the signs and times were right, the husband being treated somewhat as an outsider. But today's NFP is not that way. The man is equally informed, completely in the picture. He lives in full awareness with her cycle. In many families it is the husband who takes the leading part in plotting the graph and evaluating it. He unburdens the wife from having to make the practical decision alone, protecting her as his equal. The sympto-thermal method, which uses both temperature and mucus signs, together with other information, is also called the cooperative method, because it is collaborative, co-unitive, a "we together" method.

I prefer the sympto-thermal method over single-sign methodologies because it makes use of more signs - of all information available -and I think it involves husbands and wives more fully in a cooperative effort. This method is also very advantageous for indicating the best days to achieve a wanted pregnancy. Some may even wish to try to select the sex of a wanted baby by timing intercourse in accordance with mucus and temperature signs. At any rate, it is a method which helps husbands; and wives to feel fully responsible for their conduct and to accept the outcome.

The husband can pass the thermometer to his wife as he heads for the shower. It is a comfort for her to know that he expects her to obtain accurate results. He can then read the thermometer, chart the temperature, and cross-check this sign against the mucus and others, in the calendar context. He can remind her - or gently tease her to observe herself adequately: "Think sensation, darling!" Once the husband has done the charting for several cycles, he is as well informed as his wife. It is a yoke shared between them. No doubt she will love her husband joyously and radiantly because of his concern that she be at peace, that she have joy and pleasure and dignity in sex as well as on all levels of the mutual relationship and family tasks.

Since both partners live in awareness of the cycle, there is no need for her to inform him "where they are at" and to turn on a red or a green light. He sees it all at a glance. He can calculate the time of their periodic sexual abstinence from intercourse, and can foresee the approximate date of their next honeymoon. During the time of waiting they enhance person-centered relations, courtship with physical abstinence.

A burden shared is a burden made easier for both, especially when it is carried with full mutual knowledge and understanding. From experience I know that couples very soon become, aware of the immense advantages of this new style of married life, the alternate times of courtship and then the honeymoon.

Couples who follow a policy of reverence for new life given by the Creator; and have respect for the sources of life which the Creator has presented to them; who wish to develop their human spirituality in the company of their Creator-God; thus can find growing happiness and appreciation of their good fortune when they learn this way of life; the way which God has provided for the protection of human dignity; the way in which they can experience the immense richness showered upon us by our Designer.

These spouses will have peace with themselves, with their spouse, with their God; and they can feel secure about the guidance which they give to their children.

I know about the change in women who stopped the Pill to go on NFP. Resentful women they were, who disliked sex while on the Pill; but then they begin to even enjoy sex again, and to long for their husbands. This means much more to them than a mere return to a satisfactory sex life after temporary deprivation; rather, it is an increase in their joy that they can esteem their husbands whose love they experience more fully, with whom they can communicate and share emotions as trusting and trusted spouses.

Those who believe that sexual abstinence - about which they have no experience - will trigger a conflict between spouses who have a good marital relationship, are mistaken. If abstinence is accused as the cause of conflict, we wonder why this should be. A failure to develop a successful practice of NFP may indicate a deeply rooted marital conflict due to the absence of true mutuality. Such couples must work out for themselves a method of overcoming their lack of communication about hidden problems. A Marriage-Encounter Weekend with follow-up, or in case of near break-up of the marriage, a Discover Weekend (Retrouvaille) may be helpful.

Dealing with conflict

Counseling sessions with a third person is for some the only successful manner of working out their problem of communication. But every counseling session with such a third person which does not lead the couple to start dialoguing among themselves immediately is wasted time and money.

But counseling and weekends which provide couples only with communication techniques will not succeed if a genuine marital bonding remains hindered and blocked by something amiss in their true and heart to heart relationship. Marital bonding must come from inside, and it cannot be achieved if the cause of the sundering of their bond is not dealt with adequately. If a couple are not accepting their marriage in alignment with essential laws of God and nature, then that is the problem which needs to be dealt with. Contraception and sterilization are subjects which must be brought out into the open at these weekends and counseling sessions. For many, this is the heart of the matter.

NFP facilitates communications

When a couple share together the burden of abstinence, they are almost forced to speak with each other about what this means to them. They must support each other, or else they will not succeed. The practice of NFP actually compels the couple to talk about this subject which is very intimate to them, to interact, and to share experiences about the reality of their fertility, as an essential part of their personhood. That fertility which is interwoven in their bodies and psyche's, inseparably linked to every fiber and cell of their human existence as male or female.

The majority of couples, on the contrary, hide this part of their, intimate lives from each other. They sneak their thoughts about the consequences of their sexual drives into uncommunicated and secret compartments; into tightly locked drawers, will hidden, locked and sealed.

NFP is reliable because of the husband's participation. Two people not only know more than one person, but when two people make a decision, it is much more firm and effective than when one decides. It is not good if the man simply waits to receive word of the "green light" and the wife is in the lonely position of having to decide about the "when" it is against her female desire to deprive her husband of comfort and joy, and this may color her judgment, or lead her to take risks. She is much more comfortable when her husband makes the decision on basis of data; when it is not she who decides, but he and she on the basis of the signs.

We must also avoid the temptation of oversimplification when teaching NFP. A method which is too simple may also require more abstinence than is really necessary, Adequate teaching and learning will make it easier in the long run. The criteria must be well defined and perceivable. We know that vagueness of road signs cause accidents. Humans tend to fall in line with necessity more easily when the markers are very clear.

Teaching should have good follow-up, from the first lesson until the couple has acquired some independence in practicing, the method, that is usually after about 3 months, and until the ,couple have found out their individual pattern which is usually after about 6 to 10 cycles.

Methodology in teaching NFP

The teaching of NFP should follow a standardized system so that it is not possible that the instructor occasionally forgets essential information. Standard methodology also makes it possible for teachers and locations to be interchangeable, for example, when couples or instructors move. Besides providing guidance about monitoring the signs of fertility and infertility, instruction should contain guidance for couples to facilitate collaboration as partners in decision making and commitment. A multi-faceted method, because it is a more demanding and sophisticated technology, affords a challenge to men; they understand that their wives need help, need positive support for charting and interpreting the signs. Thus their couple fertility becomes a shared responsibility as it must be.

There is no doubt that men like to be involved in decision making about their fertility and sexuality. If the husband is not fully involved in making the decisions about this central area of their marital intimacy, then he is also ineffectual on other levels of guidance in the family as husband and as father. Women may appear to become stronger and more demanding, perhaps because they are overburdened, fragmented, debased, left alone.