Conversations with Dr. Meyer on Healing Marriages (II)

Anthony Zimmerman
June 7, 1985
Edited by Fr. Anthony Zimmerman
Reproduced with Permission


Can sterilized couples be healed, restored to joy and to full participation in the communion of saints? It seems, on the contrary from the attitude taken by these deeply hurt couples as well as by their doctors and pastors, that healing is considered to be impossible, or not needed, or most likely that it is undesirable. The hurt and suffering, the alienation from society and from the spouse felt keenly by sterilized couples is hidden, buried in a closely locked drawer, better to be left alone. Is this because the subject itself is too sensitive and explosive to handle? Is it because we are ignorant and helpless in the face of this new kind of evil, not knowing how to deal with the irreversible wrong?

Let us very briefly present the facts and circumstances of female and male sterilization, the irreversible method of artificial birth control.

First of all, there are the "failures," the pregnancies after tubal ligation, which are usually ectopic. When this happens it is always an emergency case for the mother; the child almost always dies. Philip Darney, M.D. of the University of California in San Francisco reported a study involving 817 tubal ligations; 13 "failures" were reported, a pregnancy rate of 1.6%. Sterilization was said to be in trouble "because of an outbreak of sterilization failures" (PRIMUM NON NOCERE, Vol. 1, 1983, report of 1982 meeting of American Planned Parenthood Professionals at Denver.)

Then there is the problem of hormonal imbalances suffered by women after tubal ligation. A significant proportion of women develop heavier periods during the year after the operation. A number of them eventually require hysterectomy.Many women suffer "decapacitating agony and cramps during menstruation" beginning two months after the tubal ligation. These are the words of a woman describing her own experience and that of ten others of her circle of acquaintances. Frequently physicians do no even inform the women about the cause of these grave menstrual pains, so they feel dread of a very serious disease. Ignorance of the cause aggravates the physical pain all out of proportion.

For these women the heavy dysmenorrhea would be less traumatic if physicians would simply explain to them that such a condition follows after a tubal ligation quite frequently. Do physicians really not know about this? Or does this happen because the family physician doesn't know about the ligation which was done by someone else, a gynecologist? At any rate, a great number of sterilized women now carry this heavy burden.

Dr. Christopher Tietze, President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America listed the following possible complications after female sterilization:

a) surgical complications, as hemorrhage, infection;
b) heart failure, clots to the lungs, death;
c) heavy menstruation;
d) changes in sexual desire;
e) re-canalization of the Fallopian Tube;
f) ectopic pregnancy;
g) promiscuity. (PROCEEDINGS, 8th Annual Meeting of the PPFA, Boston, Mass. 1970.)

The same Dr. Tietze listed the following sequelae after vasectomies:

a) infection, death;
b) re-canalization of the vas deferens;
c) premature ejaculation;
d). promiscuity.

If we include vasectomized male spouses, the number of sterilized couples may reach as high as 60%or 70%. More than half the couples actually live neuter gender sex, having excluded their heterosexual humanness of being men or women. Why have so many done it? Many decide on this permanent form of unnatural birth control because they have that choking fear of "needing an abortion." Or they may dread that if they lack physical love-making during abstinence time when following natural family planning, their marriage may break up.

These fears are not necessary, and are entirely out of touch with reality, if we view what is going on in the field of natural family planning, where couples are well adjusted. People who do not know NFP, however, are probably not going to bo convinced. Before living it, they don't believe. It is a no-win situation: they won't believe it until after they live it; but they won't live it either because they don't believe it works. Stuck in their prison of self-imposed ignorance, they mis-opt for that tragedy of sterilization.

Bearing and rearing their children, they may admit, sadly, that they no longer have sexual relations since frigidity or impotence have become a problem.

In some cases there is a restless search for "satisfying sex" which can almost take the form of rape if done with the spouse; or there is incest, a hidden affliction about which reports are increasing. Or the search for sex may be done outside, especially because "one is protected in any case."

The divisive psycho-sexual consequence of sterilization is something which even love cannot prevent or neutralize, because the very core Of a human being is an inseparably interlocked unity of body + psyche. Because of sterilization, spouses cannot accept each other as intact human beings in their male and female sexuality. There always remains an awareness about the rejection of the essence of the spouse in his/her total self, even if this is only felt subconsciously (and nine tenths of our feeling and thinking is subconscious).

Sex, done for its own sake and not as an inter-relation of persons, is not love. Sex from which the natural openness to life has been blocked out lacks any glory and splendor. The fun eventually ceases to be real fun and no longer brings contentment. Contraceptive sex is distant, a gap between the two. It is not a heterosexual relationship because the partner's opposite and complementing sexuality is neutralized. The much touted method to allow uninhibited sex, blissfully free from fear of pregnancy, has in reality mis-developed; it now causes friction and/or flat, dead, or broken-up marriages.

Couples who have been sterilized can tell about this experience most clearly. Initially there is relief, and this time varies in duration. But the time comes when the husband can no longer perform well sexually; ejaculation praecox or impotentia coeundi. may show up. This has roots in the subconscious, the abiding awareness of the non-reversible mutilation of their fertility which constitutes the essence of their sexual identity, male or female.

On the other hand, the woman may be the first to find the sex act boring, routine, flat. She may no longer "need" conjugal sexual intercourse. Increasingly she may remain dry, not perceiving any desire for the act, resenting the man who wants intercourse. She may detest his penis, she may feel physically nauseated by her man, may come to hate him. (This is reported to happen after abortion too by some women.) She may feel a revulsion when he touches her, since it is a suggestion of the sexual act, even when the husband may intend a non-genital caress. The situation keeps deteriorating, becoming distressful to the extreme for both. Living together is troublesome, irritating, unrewarding. They slip into the "sad" marriage, or the "dead" marriage, where they may still be fond of each other, or may be perseveringly committed to the upbringing of their children but they have no longer any hope left that they will ever be able to melt in marital oneness in the unique way of the intimate marital act.

Previous sexual deviation may aggravate the current problem

The situation may be aggravated nowadays because one or the other of the partners has become accustomed to immediate sexual satisfaction from many years of masturbation, from casual sex before marriage, and/or from superficial contraceptive sex. When unable to find sexual satisfaction with a partner in their sterilized union, the uncommitted subconscious reacts with resentment, frustration, feelings of ego rejection; accusations follow, and fighting; they stop accepting each other, lose real love; instead they feel hatred increasing; hatred of the spouse, and a subconscious hatred of self.

Contraception, abortion, and sterilization are truly making a wreck of our society, pulling it apart, ungluing its bonds, boiling up pressures of tensions, demolishing families. The following sequelae are typical:

Healing After Sterilization

The high rate of sterilization among men and women can not be wished away. It is a reality now, and the sterilized as well as the rest of mankind must live with this situation, for good or for evil. Priests who gaze over their congregation on Sundays must measure their words, their proclaiming of the-Good News, fully aware of the fact of the presence of sterilized couples. For these as well as for the others they must do the work of Christ, who described His mission in these words:

In reply, Jesus said to them: "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind recover their sight, cripples walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead men are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them. (Mt. 11, 4-5.)

But we ask, how can they be healed, those who have sterilized their marital life for contraceptive purposes? The answer will not be quick nor easy. Yet we must find a genuine way of healing for them. I shall try several suggestions for the healing of sterilized couples, as well as for those who have done an abortion. Healing is possible. First of all, the problem must be faced by the couple. They must see the reality of their wrong decision and must work through the main things which sterilization means for their subconscious feelings and thoughts. Maybe it will be harder for some men than for some women. Men, the nicest and best-of men, are inclined to keep their innermost feelings closely locked. They believe they are strong; and they probably suppose that they are less exposed to mistakes and embarrassment when they keep their secrets to themselves; when they try to suppress their inner tears and sadness; when they let out no sign of that inner violence and rage about the consequences of their wrong decision.

A sincere confession must be the basis of healing for a person and couple who have been sterilized for contraceptive purposes. (The same holds true for contraceptive acts and abortion, of course.) Once a sin is confessed sincerely, God's forgiveness is complete. He restores us to grace and to His good favor. "Peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2, 14.)

One important reassurance is open to suffering sterilized couples: the majority of them did not fully know and did not understand the wrongness of this surgery. So many Catholics have been wrongly instructed, falsely reassured by an uninformed clergy and by doctors who told them that sterilization is not wrong when it serves the couple's unitive purposes; who perhaps explained that sexual relations without any fear of pregnancy is even a necessary means for the expression of their love in marriage, in their situation.

The teachings of Humanae Vitae in 1968 were. clear, but many Catholic couples who followed the forbidden path were probably not gravely disobedient because the teachings were not proclaimed sufficiently on the local level, and some of the priests explained away the meaning by saying that the decision is left to individual consciences. Insight into the gravity of the consequences could be obtained by the majority of couples only recently.

Satan, of course, is a master of subtle lies. We should all know with more clarity now that the message of the teaching against sterilization and contraception was and is clear, and that we must trust the Holy Spirit's teaching through our Popes from now on, without more wavering and equivocation. Unless we do so, we suffer all the more personal harm, and the sins of mankind may bring on God's punishment. History indicates that wars are caused not as much by weapons as by sins. The Mother of God said at Fatima that wars are a punishment for sins and that most souls which go to hell do so because of sins of the flesh.

We know that there is no reason at all for any of the involved parties, physicians, priests, governments, young people, married couples, anyone at all to remain spiritually and psychologically paralyzed for the rest of life merely because the physical integrity of sterilized couples cannot be restored. We must trust securely in God's full forgiveness and grace, and trust in our own spiritual image, that likeness of God which is in us, despite our past sins.

We must also trust in our leadership role as Catholics, as the new Israel, who will pioneer for others the way to salvation by our own immediate and complete repentance and conversion, by our renewed obedience to those laws of nature which are established in God.

Each of us must scrutinize ourselves to disarm everything that is of Satan; and we must canvass among spouses neighbors, parishes, schools, priests, physicians, health units, politicians, so that all take the road appointed for salvation. The arms to secure our own marital stability and joy, to protect the welfare of our children and the eventual health of their marriages, must be the spiritual conversion of each of us in obedience and humility. This same spiritual conversion to sexual purity, taught and spread everywhere, is also our surest protection against inroads by atheistic nations which seek expansion.

In addition to the prior need of being restored to God's favor psychological healing is also necessary for sterilized couples. As the saying goes, God forgives but nature does not; nature requires our full efforts to restructure our own integrity. I think that a restoration of a healthy subconscious self, as man or woman, might be made more easily possible for some of the sterilized couples if they take upon themselves the discipline of following a pattern of life which those couples follow who practice natural family planning. After tubal ligation charting of temperature and mucus signs and others is possible.

The recommendation by Masters and Johnson to use sexual abstinence as a means of solving sexual problems comes to mind here.

Adopting the NFP pattern of life to heal the trauma of sterilization

It is my conviction that the trauma felt by couples because of sterilization will best be healed by adopting a pattern of life like couples who practice NFP. Some go part way by just abstaining on a fixed number of nine days during every cycle, and for some this may be enough. For others it does not bring sufficient relief, nor the desired revitalization of their marriage. These do better when they adopt the entire NFP system. It is more burdensome, requires more sacrifice, and more care for each other, which is all for the good; it stimulates them to communicate constantly and intimately about what concerns them both deeply.

Husbands should know that their wives are extremely grateful and encouraged in this practice if their men cooperate in fertility awareness positively with them; for example, if the men hand the thermometer to them, indicating by such action that they care, and that they expect exact measurements.

For men who live in a sterilized union, this kind of "shadow NFP" can be just that kind of exercise which they need to re-integrate their fragmented personalities in their roles as male, as spouse, as father.

Verbal communication may soon be recovered, the couple looking at each other again as persons and spouses; and their withered sex drive may make a quick come-back. With new respect for each other, and for God, they have confidence in themselves again, they try to expiate for their mistakes, and wonders happen.

How long should couples "burden" themselves with such "make believe NFP"? Each couple must find their own way. Some may not need it at all, if they can confront reality after just coming to their senses, for example when reading a text like this. With Confession and conversion they may achieve real healing.

Such a minimum of a one-time confrontation and change may indeed be enough to bring about the required reconciliation with God, and to start the marriage down smoother tracks; but trouble may soon make its appearance again. The man may be very sensitive to persistent inner pain, and there is not sufficient opportunity to work it out through exercises. His pain may prevail again to block out the personal acceptance he has just begun.

The woman, more aware perhaps of the need to make an 180 degree turnabout, may want to work harder at it; and he may perceive this as selfish discontent and nagging. But if she falls silent again, they both fall back into the trap of the compromised marriage, made to seem peaceful on the surface, but locked in tensions, irritation, frustration, sadness, and immobility below the surface. They do not achieve the goal of that melted oneness with each other, that joy in unity which then brims over with goodness, sensed by the children, by each other, by the people with whom they associate.

Does it take a long time to re-vitalize a dead marriage, traumatized by sterilization? Someone wrote that it will take a couple just as long to recover as it took to get snagged in the problem. I do not agree, provided the couple really work at collaborative NFP together. If they take care to make good observations about the signs of fertility, to chart them, to interpret them together, and to schedule their times of abstinence and times of intercourse accordingly, this all opens the way to a great deal of easy and fruitful dialogue about their life together. I say that in a year or two a couple can pull itself out of a deep-seated marital problem into the sunshine of a very nice union again.

But what shall we say if the husband (or wife) is not cooperative? Should the other just pray and accept? Well, that is still best if nothing else is left. But why be satisfied? We have something new now, which we never had before: collaborative NFP exercises. This makes them equal partners, provides joy.

The man perceives his own dignity in the very exercise of protecting the dignity of his spouse seated on a throne just as high as his own. For a sterilized couple the effort made to carry out a life-pattern of NFP is a good investment, paying out splendid dividends. The experience of healing is priceless. Soon they achieve a smooth routine - a sequel of courtships and honey-moon synchronized with observations, charting, and mutual decision-making. Try it. Don't be content with less.

In a sterilized marriage the men are apt to be disoriented even more than the women. Women are able to live closely to their female role, since they are still concerned with their cycles, they can mother their children, and help their husbands, all of which helps to fulfill them as women.

Men, on the contrary, even though they accepted vasectomy, become fragmented as males, as spouses, as fathers. When a husband shows signs of sadness, of depression, of inner tears (maybe he reveals this through loud joking), if he lacks sexual desire, or if his sexual desire is insatiable, he should be guided to take up co-operative marriage through the pattern of NFP living. Priests and doctors must show empathy, take the time and patience to get him started on this path.

The NFP pattern of life which capitalizes on the fascinating, enticing, interest-absorbing, constructive and unifying method built into our human bodies of fertility awareness, is something absolutely new to this century. It is available to mankind in all its fullness for the first time. Here is a splendid opportunity for healing, a providential comeback available to our age when sterilization has made such a wide-fronted war against marital happiness and peace.

But how can sterilized couples find a proper rationale to enter NFP classes? Some stay away because of their condition. even though they would like to join classes in order to teach their teenaged daughters.

Their sense of shame and not-belonging, when sitting in classes with fertile couples who need NFP for family planning, could be diminished if pastors would help along from the pulpit; if they would encourage all, including those who have done wrong, to live fully for the glory of God through unquestioning obedience to God, through a vibrant faith shown by compliance with the God-given laws written into our nature as men and women.

In a sense, we all are guilty - all of us who constitute our generation of society which has duped couples to become sterilized. In a sense they are even innocent - relatively innocent - victims of the professionals who have misled them, perhaps priests, maybe doctors, the media, do-good-nicks. Don't we all grow old too soon, wise too late? Where were we, the "superior folks" when busy-body people persuaded these couples to resort to sterilization? Were we silent, lame, not caring about our brother? Where were the pastors who should have got the NFP show on the road long, long ago?

Yet it is not right to excuse the couples of misdeeds, saying "It was society, not I". They could remain broken and alone, snug only in excuse. The deed was done, finally, not by society. The deed was done by the couple, and it is the couple who must make the comeback. By acknowledging our mistakes we provide ourselves with firm footing to stand on, to grow, to make progress.

Insight into the mistake of sterilization, once obtained, can evoke open discussion within the family about the situation, including the children. The NFP instructor should consult privately with the sterilized couple about constructive re-evaluation so that they become informed, strong, and able to cope. It happens often that they then become at ease. in dialogue not only with family members but also with other participants in the NFP course. One couple even became instructors of NFP. Of course, the instructor will observe the strict right to privacy which the couples have. Unless the sterilized couples wish to reveal their secret, the instructor will respect their privacies is the duty of all who learn secrets by their professional services.

How does NFP heal sterilized couples?

Shared abstinence, if done openly and together, tends powerfully to stimulate person-oriented communication and collaboration on all levels of conjugal life. Moreover, this sexual fast can sharpen the appetite for the genuine conjugal union. The waiting time sets the stage.

But to make myself clear, I am not saying that waiting alone is beneficial to the union. Contraceptors may have long intervals between intercourse without growing in desire for union. "We had only two pills left, but we did not have intercourse all this time," reported one woman. The long fast had not sharpened their desire.

NFP, however, brings to a union that wholeness of the basis of love which contraception takes away. The subconscious is too much aware of the divisive action of contraception which is not love, which is not real union. Therefore abstinence does not work to heal the couple who contracept in the same way as it can heal the NFP couple. Real union is not anticipated after a fast by contraceptors in the same way as by NFP couples.

What I am saying, and often tell couples, is that the subconscious understands what contraception does to married people. It severs their union, separates them from each other. The practice of NFP, however, restores them to unity. They can live as their real selves, accept self + the spouse as united. "That makes sense to me," is what I hear from couples, when I explain this.

And how does the fast operate for sterilized couples, who have made a good personal confession, and rejected their action of the past? During the fast they can anticipate and look forward to a genuine union which is real and whole, even though not fertile. What I mean is this: by their abstinence they reject the contraceptive attitude; they are not divided by the former attitude; they can unite now in wholeness, aware of their repentance. Their infertility is a physical left-over of a past mentality and deed which they have put out of their lives.

If they now purposely live the NFP pattern, they assure themselves and each other of their genuine change of mind. But they still have to come to grips with their deeply traumatized marriage. So the time of sexual fasting can stimulate them powerfully to communicate, to learn for the first time, or to learn anew, how to share with each other profoundly; she shares the marvelous secrets of her cycle and experiences; he shares with her in profound love his ego hurts, his sufferings, and his dreams for growth.

The voluntarily accepted trouble of observing and charting the signs of the cycle, and of fasting sexually during the indicated days, will not accentuate guilt feelings which tend to paralyze; quite to the contrary, they are confronted starkly when following the NFP pattern, with the opportunity to work through their existing guilt feelings in a constructive manner. They can, with the help of God, make the guilt feelings become an instrument for liberation from the sadness of their irreversible sterilization. They can see more easily the phoniness of the reasons which led them to sterilization, reasons which they thought of, or which were told them by others. For example, it will become clear that they COULD have learned NFP and practiced it - it's been around for decades if they had really tried.

I believe that acceptance of an NFP pattern of life by sterilized couples can lead them quickly to such confidence and freedom that they will no longer feel inhibited from opening up to their growing children, to strengthen them; they, in turn, will put the shine on their splendid parents.

Please do not dismiss this idea as either unnecessary, or as unrealistic. The recuperation of our couples as happy spouses and parents is our most precious basis for peace in families, and peace in the world.

The acceptance of NFP by sterilized couples would provide a long-overdue advertisement and recommendation of this practice for families who are not yet familiar with it. Thus they would make themselves into great benefactors of other families and of mankind everywhere.

Finally, the voluntary acceptance of the discipline of NFP would be a practice of atonement for their own sins, and the sins of the present generation of mankind. By atonement we can ask God to forgive the world and to withhold His punishments. If in the past the sins of mankind brought upon themselves the terrible punishments of World Wars I and II, we have every reason to make atonement now for the widespread moral evil among the nations brought about by our disobedience, asking God to spare us.

The temporary sexual continence practiced by sterilized couples could be a means of meriting additional supernatural graces for themselves, their families, the world. The sacrifice of this pain and patience is a stepping stone towards joy and liberation, and of an eternal reward in heaven. So in terms of their body language or in the measure of their enjoyment they preserve for each other a capable sexiness; in terms of psychology they reach greater maturity; and in terms of our faith they reach for sainthood. Such is the healing which they make possible for themselves through the exercises of NFP.

NFP, their gift to the children and to society

Actions of parents educate the children with far greater effect upon their whole future life than do their words. The children feel, they live in their homes, the advantages of their parents, their way of life. The example of their parents is what children sense when they hear words. Words which agree with their example give the children strength. Children have a strong sense for the honesty, the dignity, the security of the parents in their conjugal life, and this is a support for them to grow strong in the blessed family circle.

NFP parents can speak easily with their growing children about what they need to know. Such. parents have learned proper terms which they can use when speaking to the children; they are fully aware about the signs of fertility which they observe carefully, and know how to make this kind of life possible, bearable, enriching. They can tell their children, without hesitation, that even in married life, self control is required, and that pre-marital years are a time of training for this. They have an NFP text available for reference to complement their own explanations.

Their children learn how they have a right to be brought up by two parents in a stable home. They see from the example of their parents that one must think before one acts, that decisions within marriage must be made together through mutual care and consultation, that marital happiness comes from mutual help and personal integrity much more than from material possessions. These children of NFP couples know that God's laws are not some ideals out of reach, but are very livable realities which are the crown of reasonable effort and of mutual help.