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SPICE Up Your Marriage

Whether you are a newlywed or it’s been 20 years since you said, “I do,” the abstinence component of practicing NFP can be a challenge for couples intending to avoid a pregnancy.



One of the greatest benefits of practicing NFP in marriage, is that it is so holistic. Couples using NFP are always giving their whole self and accepting the whole person of their spouse, including their fertility. As a quick reminder, the Catholic Church teaches that the unitive act (sexual intercourse) cannot ever be separated from the procreative. Separating the unitive from the procreative is a way of rejecting a part of the spouse, namely their fertility. While not every act of intercourse needs to intend to achieve a pregnancy, every act needs to be open to the possibility of pregnancy. By its nature then, natural family planning includes a component of abstaining when trying to avoid a pregnancy. This is also typically when couples are most hormonally and pheromonally drawn to one another sexually. Navigating this tension is most certainly one of the hardest components of practicing NFP. Failure to call that what it is and addressing it is a disservice to couples!


While abstinence when avoiding a pregnancy can be a challenge, it is also an incredible opportunity. During abstinence couples have a chance to show love in non-sexual ways. Having a treasure chest of possible ways of connecting with your spouse can help make the most of those times of abstinence. Here are some ideas:


SPICE tool

  • Check in with your spouse using the acronym SPICE. How is your spouse doing Spiritually, Physically, Intellectually, how is our Communication, how are you doing Emotionally

  • Abstinence provides an opportunity for spouses to connect on all these levels


Dr. Gottman Card Decks

  • Dr. John Gottman is a psychologist who has spent his long career studying couples and how they connect, relate and basically stay together

  • His research has yielded evidence for how couples can best be successful. He has developed several card decks (yes, like an actual deck of cards) that contain prompts for couples to use to connect in various ways, including sexual and non-sexual.

  • As a practicing Catholic, I would be remiss if I didn’t warn couples that some of the prompts in the sex deck are against Catholic teaching. Please educate yourselves on Church teaching regarding various ways of sexual intimacy. Resources include books by Christopher West, such as The Good News About Sex and Marriage, and honestly just passing any suggestion through the litmus test of: does this separate the unitive from the procreative? Meaning, could a pregnancy potentially result from this act? If the answer is no, it is against the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics

  • Gottman has a free card deck app that contains several different categories of card decks. These are an excellent way of re-connecting with your spouse

  • Save some of those Church-approved sex deck ideas for when you aren't fertile ;)

Go on frequent dates with your spouse

  • This can be as simple as dropping the kids off at a grandparent’s house and going to a park for a walk! Talk about life, your relationship, any issues that are going on

  • If you are deep in the trenches of raising young children, start with a once a month couch date. Then work your way up to once a month going out. Then work your way up to more frequently going out, with the goal of once per week. Along the way, check in and see how that frequency is working in your life. Is it too much or not enough? The main goal is making time with your spouse a priority!

Have a monthly sit down with your spouse

  • This is a great way to manage the day to day functions of your household. It helps keep date nights more focused on your relationship with your spouse if there is a separate time for the budget meeting and the household operations. This is also an excellent time to discuss the spiritual focus of your home and what you are all working on together for the next month



Some ideas for making sure your time together doesn’t lead to intercourse when you are trying to avoid:

  • Do you really need to avoid? Maybe you don’t. Check in with your spouse and with God about that

  • Avoid alcohol

  • Avoid watching movies with sexual themes or nudity. We should probably be doing this anyway, but always good to avoid when you are fertile and avoiding a pregnancy

  • Avoid the things you avoided when you were dating. When you were discerning marriage with your spouse and you were abstaining, what situations did you avoid putting yourselves in? Making out on the couch with the lights out? Yeah, probably a good idea to avoid that if you are fertile and trying to avoid a pregnancy

  • Keep the PDA rated G. That means hand holding and not much else


Remember, this is an opportunity for spouses to focus on non-sexual ways of showing love and intimacy. There is grace in that! And the connectivity that is achieved during abstinence can make the revisited sexual intimacy that much greater.

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