Choosing mortal sin for my husband and marriage? What?!

Dear friends,

I’m not really sure of where to begin while remaining short and concise, but before I go any further, I will go ahead and mention that my husband and I are meeting up with our priest very soon, to hopefully discuss much of what I’m about to lay out before you. I can tell you, however, that it likely will not get us anywhere. So here it is…

My husband is certain that if we have anymore children, he will be institutionalized. I believe him, because of his history of mental illness, he’s been institutionalized before, and when I was pregnant with my third, he “checked out.” He blamed me for the pregnancy, refused to accept it, and nearly started to hyperventilate at the mere mention of it. But number 3 came (thankfully) very healthily, and it took my husband 8 weeks to actually hold him. He’s “warming up” to our 3rd child these days, after many months.

We are both practicing Catholics who used NFP only to realize that for us, it doesn’t really work. I’m someone who is always showing signs of fertility, so in order for us to practice it to postpone pregnancy effectively, 1-2x a month is about the frequency of our intimacy. We have 3 children, and 2 were conceived at “theres no way i can be fertile” times, but was. This makes my husband very angry and very sexually frustrated a lot. When I married him, he was 100% in agreement with all of the church’s teachings. He has recently changed his stance on contraceptives, and hopes that I will as well. I’m a catholic convert, and my parents taught RCIA. I’m also extremely pro life and love my faith. I know the church’s teachings on this matter, but when I try to explain the “unitive” aspect of sex, he rolls his eyes, gets frustrated, and “hears me” but doesn’t agree. He feels that Catholicism is just a big rule book of “you can’t do this because…” And he envies the outside world using contraceptives without a second thought. So? Our marriage has been on the rocks, I’m afraid I’m falling into depression, and my husband is only more frustrated while trying to convince me it’s ok. He resents me, and our faith.

So…here I am. I’m at the crossroads. Choose to sin to make my husband happy, thus keeping our family happy and comfortable, or stay on this path and watch my husband become more angry, and if we get pregnant again…watch our marriage fail as my husband is admitted to the hospital for severe mental illness? To me, it seems like a lose-lose situation. I dream of the marital relationship in which the husband and wife are so unified spiritually, find other ways to love each other in courtship during times of abstinence, truly challenge each other spiritually, and happily welcome a child together, as a result of their intimacy, accepting it as an extraordinary gift from God. I have been reading Gregory Popcak’s book on helping our marriage, and I’m envious of what my marriage could be, but isn’t, and probably never will be. It’s unhelpful simply because its beautifully rooted in our faith, which my husband seems to live more out of guilt than reverence and joy. He knows the Catholic faith is the true faith which is why he lives it but he hates its teachings on sexuality, thus resenting it, and God, and me.

I’ve prayed about us a lot, and I know that if I choose to enter a sinful life with him, our marriage will suffer greatly. I know that we will lose a lot of the grace we need to hold it together. I know it will sever our relationship with God, and I will be unhappy. All of this would happen anyway though, continuing on our current path of constant abstinence. I fear that I may be soon choosing to enter the sinful life, to “keep the peace”, make my husband happy (while feeling like an object) and sane, and keep our family together. The things I mentioned about what I wish my marriage could be, don’t appeal to my husband. He thinks its weird to desire to be united spiritually with God in the bedroom etc. He also cringes if I say “offer it up” and already resents me greatly and blames me for his unhappiness AND the fact that we have 3 children.

At the end of the day, I love him immensely. I don’t want to see him eternally unhappy and likely Institutionalized with the current way we are living our lives. I have accepted my marriage as my cross here on earth, and I will always aspire to be like other couples, but I accept it as it is too. I love my children immensely and I want them to have their father around for the long term. So, my friends, I have always been a very good catholic girl, and never imagined I’d be asked to commit mortal sin for the sake of my marriage, but I fear I have no other choice. I’m extremely distraught and sick to my stomach about it, but any advice or words of encouragement would be greatly appreciated.

I suggest that in addition to speaking with your priest that you both begin going to therapy. You should try to find a marriage and family therapist that you both feel comfortable with. The issues you and your husband are struggling with are going to need a psychological perspective as well as a spiritual one.

I’ll be praying for you and your family.

Tay, is your husbands aversion towards babies central to his mental illness? Did babies 1 and 2 produce adverse reactions?

Have you obtained some expert assistance in respect of NFP? There are different variants that may work better for you, and there are fertility monitors that may be less easily fooled by your symptoms.

It is my understanding that if the husband wants to use contraceptives and the wife does not, if he decides to use them without her consent, then it is his sin and not hers.

She just has to make it known, now and then, that she is not agreeing with him using the contraceptive.

This is correct.

I would suggest, however, that assuming you haven’t looked into other methods of NFP, that you consider doing so. (Creighton, Marquette, STM, etc.) Leaving aside anything else, once your cycles return after baby #3, waiting until 4-5 days post-ovulation temperature spike would give you at least a week in which you could be together. Not that that’s necessarily ideal, either, but it’s better than one or two days out of a cycle.

Catholic and amazing

I suggest going back and figuring out what happened with your surprise pregnancy cycles and adjusting your NFP accordingly.

Personally, I’ve encountered the following surprises:

  1. Really, really good sperm that lasts 7 days. (We had to shorten our Phase 1 in response.)

  2. A surprisingly long cycle where we thought we must have gone into Phase 3, but hadn’t, and managed to hit ovulation day perfectly. (I can’t quite recall the details of this one, but I think normal rules would have done the job–there might have been a false temporary temperature rise due to illness.)

Figure out what happened (maybe with the help of a phone counselor or teacher) and share the information with your husband.

The advice earlier about Phase 3 and adding a day or two to the normal rules is good. That should give you rather more than 1 or 2 days. (I think that would be a variation on the CCL’s symptothermal method.) If you are having trouble with lactational amenorrhea, seriously consider switching to formula in order to get your fertility and fertility signs back. Give your husband the option–he may say no.

Question: Does your husband fall apart just because of his own internal thoughts and catastrophizing about an extra child, or is it the real, objective work and pressure of a new child that does it?

“And he envies the outside world using contraceptives without a second thought.”

The outside world is full of people having oopsie babies while using (or forgetting to use) contraceptives. Even if you were to start using contraceptives, that’s no guarantee that you will never get pregnant again. If he is having sex with a premenopausal woman, pregnancy is always at least a slight possibility, even in the case of sterilization. Does he understand that contraception is not magical? It does fail and frequently, which is why there are as many people as there are who want abortion to back up their contraception.

Furthermore, there may in future be times when medically, you are not allowed to have intercourse or intercourse is physically impossible or painful. Being able to be cheerfully abstinent is a useful life skill (and not just for NFP).

I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s mental health issues. I’m sure that is difficult for your family.

I can recommend Marquette, if you have not looked into that-- Marquette uses Creighton plus a fertility monitor.

I’m sorry to hear that.

Is he getting help for his mental illness?

What you cannot do is choose sin. That is never the answer.

I’m very sorry, that must be hard.

Did you talk at all to his therapist before you married? I mean, kids are a possibility no matter whether you are using NFP or contraception-- just ask all those “pill babies” and mommies out there. So, was there some sort of contraindication regarding him being able to be a parent? I mean, did this just come up overnight? I think you should visit his therapist with him-- this is a mental health issue at its root, not a Church issue.

Do not sin. Our life here on earth is fleeting, the reality is that eternity matters most.

God first, God always.

Please talk to priest. And if you or you husband do not feel comfortable with the 1st try another (some are better at coaching life issues than others).

I’m still in the middle of being married outside the church (long story, I fell away after college, married a Jewish woman, and then found the Church again). While trying to convince my wife to allow me to “resolve” my marriage (plus what to do about my daughter), the priest told me that the one thing I can’t do while trying to resolve anything is damage my marriage.

Getting divorsed over this matter would be worse. While mortal sin, is mortal sin… The destruction of a family is way worse than using birth control and going to confession after each time.

Try to avoid the sin, but its not mortal for you if you are “forced in to it.”

But talk to a priest and don’t allow this to lead to divorse.

God Bless!

What does it mean to be “forced” into using contraceptives. Does it mean not agreeing but assenting to keep the peace?

If the spouse contracepts against the will of the other, the innocent spouse is not sinning.

See Vademecum For Confessors.

Thanks. That’s a good resource. For anyone who hasn’t seen that document, here is the section:

Vademecum for Confessors

  1. Special difficulties are presented by cases of cooperation in the sin of a spouse who voluntarily renders the unitive act infecund. In the first place, it is necessary to distinguish cooperation in the proper sense, from violence or unjust imposition on the part of one of the spouses, which the other spouse in fact cannot resist.46, 561).] This cooperation can be licit when the three following conditions are jointly met:
when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;47
when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;
when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion). 

Of course I assume any determination would be pastoral and based on the priest’s assessment of the situation.

Exactly, but it wouldn’t work for the innocent spouse to suggest that the guilty one contracepts.

Tay, I’m sorry you are in such a difficult position! Choosing a mortal sin that is harmful to your marriage is never a good solution for any marriage issue. Never. It would not help your husband’s soul and certainly not your own soul either. I know it is easier said than done, but please look into other forms of NFP that can help you pinpoint your fertility. It is great that you are going to go speak with a priest, prayers that he is one that has great clarity on the Church’s teachings on this subject and can help shed some light on the why’s behind the teachings!
Prayers going your way!

Tay I think it is fairly clear by now that you would not be sinning mortally (and not even venially) if you adhered to the three conditions already mentioned:

  • when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;47
  • when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;
  • when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).

I believe your husband may have sufficient aggravating mental health issues to reduce his culpability below the threshhold of mortal imputability should he use contraception to save his sanity and your marrriage (neither of which consequences is going to be good for the upbringing of your children) despite your requests to the contrary.

A sincere husband would still want to attempt to practice the abstinence required in this situation as best he can and when he falls into contraceptive sex confess each occassion on a regular basis.

Yes we are all called to heroic virtue at times (which seems to be esp asked of your husband in this situation due to his high anxieties and poor mental health).
However I am not so sure that failure in heroic virtue regarding grave matter is anywhere near as malicious as those well within our strength.

Please note that the Vademecum for Confessors is for CONFESSORS. Not for laity.

I encourage you to take this to your pastor, as he needs to advise you on this not CAF folks.

Wouldn’t it be a mortal sin if you just go to confession but keep sinning the same sin knowing there is confession.

Yes, it would, and it would be the additional sin of sacrilege to confess a sin with no intention of amendment. The sin wouldn’t be forgiven, either.

As others have discussed, her husband might use contraception without her participation and without her sin, provided that she has made it clear to him that she does not approve of it. It would be best for the OP to talk to a priest…I hope, OP, that you find someone who can help you in this. :slight_smile:

That’s a tough question, but I guess my answer would be “yes” to both questions, but reluctantly. He was in tears and overjoyed with the birth of our first but would become anxious when she cried a lot (she was colicky until we figured out she had a dairy allergy and reflux). My second came so quickly after the first that he was a tad in denial, but accepted it, and also became anxious if the baby cried too much. With this one, he was in complete denial and only just recently accepted our child. Before that, he indicated he didn’t feel love for our baby and the baby seemed more like “my” baby than “ours”. :frowning: we have not obtained expert advice on NFP. We don’t exactly know where to go for that.


Question: Does your husband fall apart just because of his own internal thoughts and catastrophizing about an extra child, or is it the real, objective work and pressure of a new child that does it?

The first part, definitely! He anticipates what’s to come, and worries, and it’s almost like every little peep out of the baby confirms or justifies that anxiety and stress. It probably doesn’t help that I tell him my stress is him and how he reacts to life situations. The sad part is that this time around, we have the most easy going baby. I think that’s helped him “get over himself”.

All of that being said…it took him almost a year to get over himself with this baby. When they took the baby via c/s, he looked over very unenthusiastically, and only did what he was asked. He was anything but the typical “excited” dad. It broke my heart to pieces.

1ke: He has been getting help. He sees a psychiatrist 1x a month. He should probably be going more often. He’s very open to going to a marriage counselor too. One difficult thing is that he doesn’t communicate his feelings very well, so instead he keeps it inside, and most people don’t have the patience to give him the time to really form what he wishes to say. Almost like someone who stutters. He cares too much about what others think of him too, so he prefers to stay quiet, and I’ve heard him tell our priest he trusts God, when he has told me on the other hand that he hates being out of control of his life and that’s why he’s mad at me and God. I don’t think he’s trying to lie, but telling the priest what he thinks the priest wants to hear. To answer your other questions, he’s actually great with children. He’s an amazing father to our first 2, especially as they’ve gotten older. He dreads the newborn stage. He’s a stay-at-home dad. I admit, I’m resentful. Also, he was in agreement to all the church teaches and NFP and openness to life when we first got married. He recently told me that he wasn’t feeling open to life when we first got married, but couldn’t tell me that or else he knew I’d never be intimate with him. He assumes the worst about me a lot :/. I realize I’m not laying out a very good situation, and it’s all very personal and difficult for me to write publicly. I feel kind of stuck and in need of miraculous healing.

Thank you for all of the resources. I’m feeling hopeful!

Tay said:

“He’s an amazing father to our first 2, especially as they’ve gotten older. He dreads the newborn stage. He’s a stay-at-home dad.”

Ooooh–that makes a huge difference if he is going to be the one doing daily custodial care for any new children, and his screws are a little loose.

Definitely investigate your NFP failures and figure out what happened. If you figure out what happened, you can tighten up your rules to cover the new data.

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