Dear Therapist,

My girlfriend is a devout Christian and she’s strongly considering becoming Catholic, but she’s been on birth control for about 5 years due to debilitating periods and she’s nervous to go off of it. “I understand logically why the Church doesn’t allow it, but I’m still not entirely sure I agree,” is sort of the summation of her position. For some reason, I don’t like thinking about the fact that she’s on it, even though she isn’t doing anything immoral since we aren’t sexually active. Is it best that I not bother bringing it up? And if so, should I just avoid dwelling on it? It’s become a touchy subject for her so I want to approach it as wisely as possible, but also don’t want to ignore it, especially if we end up getting married. I’d really appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Sincerely,
Anonymous

Response from Regina Boyd, LMHC

Hi Anonymous,

It sounds like she is someone you see yourself marrying, which makes this conversation important for your future. 

Let’s first look at the facts. Your girlfriend has a medical condition and she is using something prescribed for relief from debilitating periods. That prescription drug is also used as a form of birth control, but that is not why she is using it.

Catholics who strive to form their conscience with Church teaching may bristle at the thought of using birth control, but let’s take a look at this passage from Humanae Vitae by St. Pope Paul VI:

“. . . the Church does not consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.” (Humanae Vitae 15)

Your girlfriend is treating a disease with a drug that will create a “foreseeable impediment to procreation.” In the words of a pope and a saint, “the Church does not consider [this] illicit.”

Now, let’s talk about your relationship. If she is someone you hope to marry one day and you’ve been dating for a reasonably long time, it is important to have conversations about what you both want in marriage. 

What are your hopes, dreams, and visions? What do you each believe about the role of a husband and wife, and are you each comfortable with that? For example, do you desire a wife who solely raises children, or one who works outside of the home, as well? What does she envision her role to be and what does she desire in a husband? How many children would you hope to have? Do you want to raise your children in the Catholic faith?

These are all questions I suggest couples have BEFORE getting married. These are not topics you want to figure out as you go along. Part of discernment for marriage is seeing if your visions align. If they are not aligned, can you compromise and still feel comfortable? If your non-negotiables simply don’t match up, then it may be time to reconsider this relationship.

I’d also encourage you to think about why you are uncomfortable with her treating a disease with birth control, even though such use is not necessarily sinful. Have you expressed your concerns about birth control to her in the past, and if so, what were you trying to accomplish? Were you trying to ensure she lives according to your vision for marriage? Does she hold this same vision? Were you concerned about the health risks associated with birth control, or was it something else? Getting to the root of your sense of urgency may provide clarity on how to proceed.

If you desire to use natural family planning in marriage and you’ve been dating long enough to have conversations about the future, I’d consider sharing your vision for marriage with her. This will give her insight into your heart and help both of you discern how to move forward in the relationship. Of course, there’s no need to proceed with a judgmental tone, but rather in a way that expresses your hopes and dreams for your future family. Hopefully this is something that she will take into consideration if she sees you in her future.

Because you aren’t engaged, there is no rush. You have time to discuss your position and discern stronger commitments. Once you’ve been clear about your desires, and you’ve listened to her perspective, I would recommend taking a step back from this conversation — especially considering how frustrating it likely is for her. No one likes to be sick, and she is probably tired of dealing with her condition. 

You will now have more information to help in your discernment process. Is she open to taking steps toward becoming more aligned with your views? Is she willing to learn more about your beliefs? Is she respectful of your beliefs, even if she doesn’t agree? Is this someone who you would want to raise your children, even if her belief and position on this issue never change?

The answers to these questions should inform how you move forward. 

In the meantime, give her some space. It sounds like when you discuss this topic, it leads to frustration and tension. This may be because she either is not clear on how important this is for you, or holds a different viewpoint. Space conveys your respect for her free will and shows your willingness to accept her, even if she makes different decisions than you do. This can help facilitate more trust within your relationship.

Wishing you all the best!

Regina Boyd

Regina is the Founder of Boyd Counseling Services, a Catholic licensed mental health practice that provides in-person and virtual services for couples and individuals. She works with clients who are experiencing stress, life changes, desire healthy emotional connection, and seek to develop problem solving strategies within their relationships. Regina is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. She is also a featured contributor to the #1 Catholic App, the Hallow app. She lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband of almost 13 years and their beautiful daughter.

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