We began to fall in love in the early spring during college.
The chemistry was quite obvious. During the summer before we got engaged, we read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken, in which he tells the story of the deep “inloveness” between himself and his wife, Davy.
We, too, like Davy and Sheldon, wanted to preserve and deepen our inloveness. In our marriage, our use of natural family planning, with all of its struggles and suffering, plus the joy of our children, has been a key instrument in deepening our inloveness; it has aided our growth in virtue.
Before their conversion to Christianity, Sheldon and Davy felt that to preserve their inloveness they needed to share everything — have the same likes and dislikes; read the same books; do the same activities. They thought that having children would cause an insurmountable separateness because the emotional and physical commitment of being a mother is not something that can be shared.
We knew this was wrong, so we have sought to preserve our inloveness along with children, and NFP has greatly helped.
When married, we quickly discovered that inloveness changes when you begin to live together and express your love in the marital act. Things changed as Susanna experienced her first symptoms of pregnancy, which for her involved things like a strong aversion to smells, foods and often physical touch.
For Mark, it was quite difficult to deal with this change in physical affection. This difficulty was exacerbated by Susanna’s postpartum recovery, breast-feeding difficulties, and the new relationship with our first child.
Early on in our marriage, the times of waiting were quite difficult. The need to postpone intimacy, facilitated by NFP, seemed at times to create the separateness that Sheldon and Davy so feared. It has taken us years to work through the issues without feeling deeply hurt by what seemed to be a lack of sympathy on the part of the other. But through our ongoing use of NFP, we were able to learn how to grow in sympathy and use our reason in how we responded to the wishes of the other.
In a marriage that is seeking to follow God’s plan for marriage as a complete gift of oneself to the other, there are many physical sacrifices demanded of both spouses — a main one being abstinence for periods of time. NFP teaches one to rationally discern, “When is the best time to enter into the marital embrace?” This helps one to become, slowly and with much difficulty, more virtuous, and to be more fully present to one’s spouse. These things, eventually, greatly deepen inloveness.
The times of waiting themselves, too, do not have to be a time of separateness. They force us to see one’s common life — spending time together, sharing interests, reading the same books, watching the same movies, playing games, having good discussions, and, most importantly, raising children to holiness together — as a way to enhance inloveness. Those times can be a beautiful time of waiting, like the long months of our engagement, when we knew there was an end of our waiting and that we would be better for having struggled to wait.
The philosopher Max Scheler, who influenced St. John Paul II, argues that asceticism — denying oneself genuine goods for the sake of a higher good — actually leads to a more intense experience of life. Inloveness is an intense experience of life with one’s beloved, and denying oneself the joy of the marital act for a time can intensify one’s inloveness.
To live virtuously and rationally also is to live a more intense human life, which is not always easy, but is really, we’ve found, more fulfilling overall.
Mark and Susanna Spencer write from St. Paul, Minnesota.
They met and fell in love at Franciscan University of Steubenville
and are the parents of four children.
Mark holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and teaches
at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Susanna has a master’s degree in theology and
uses her education for home-schooling and writing endeavors.