The post-wedding period is typically the most popular time for women to stop taking birth control. For most, it’s in hopes of starting a family. For me, it was to save my marriage.
Since meeting my husband four years previously, I had tried three different types of oral contraceptive — and each had side effects that put a tremendous strain on our relationship.
The first pill made me bleed profusely every time we had sex. The second caused me to become jealous and paranoid. We argued — loudly, intensely, emotionally, and often in public. My self-esteem was rock bottom and I lashed out at any perceived slight. The third option was just the final shovel of dirt on my already well-buried libido.
The Pill had driven a wedge between us. I found it was hard to discern my true feelings from those driven by its impact. And we were both exhausted by the cycle of melodrama. I knew this relationship wasn’t going to work if nothing changed.
So, in 2009, after being married for six months, I decided to ditch them completely. That decision saved my marriage.
Now, when I come across articles with various tips about how to improve your relationship, I can't help but think some of them could be as simple as "step one: ditch the Pill."
Here are the five ways I found that going off of hormonal birth control improved my own marriage:
1. I feel more present and in control of my emotions.
The psychological side effects of the Pill made me feel both detached from my husband, and attached to what I perceived as insurmountable problems.
Coming off the Pill was like reconnecting with my husband and the world around me at large. Everything seemed to look brighter, smell sweeter, feel better and seem more real.
I'm also free of the cycle of obsessive negative thinking. Disagreements, when they rarely come up, are quickly resolved. I feel a wider range of emotions and feel them more strongly — but they're more feelings of happiness, bliss, joy, and excitement.
Of the 30% of women who stop using the Pill because of their dissatisfaction with it, the most commonly cited reason is the side effects, namely, a negative change in their mood.
In fact, research has shown that women on the Pill are almost twice as likely to be depressed as those who aren't. The combination of suppressed hormones, vitamin deficiency, and poor gut health often created by the Pill can be the perfect storm for psychological issues.
2. Choosing a new method strengthened our relationship.
When I came to realize the birth control pill was causing psychological and physical side effects, it was my husband who first encouraged me to write about it. He didn’t expect me to keep taking the pills. He didn’t resent me for everything they’d put us through. And he was happy to use condoms until I figured out what came next.
As we weren’t ready for a baby, we had to find another way stop that from happening too soon. Talking through this decision and deciding to take shared responsibility brought us closer.
In the end, I decided to learn fertility awareness and after trying a range of methodologies, I picked a fertility monitor called Daysy last year. Each morning, when I wake up, I use the device to take my basal body temperature (which changes when you ovulate). It then displays a red or green light to indicate whether I am fertile or infertile. I find it keeps things easy, spontaneous and stress-free. Now my husband gets to ask me, “red or green?" My unique fertility has become a sexy secret that we share.
And the support he showed during this process made me understand how much he cared for my well-being.
3. I found creative fulfillment outside of my relationship.
As a writer, I found the birth control pill sapped my creativity. After I’d been on the Pill for a few years, it became incredibly hard to think with any clarity, let alone transfer those thoughts to the blank page. I found it harder and harder to express my thoughts. I experienced brain fog. Writing was like walking through thick mud.
It’s telling, I feel, that once I was off the Pill I immediately began a daily blog that then became several articles in major publications, a book proposal, a published book and then the inspiration for a documentary, all in the space of a few years.
This work gave me a passion, a place of fulfillment, and a vocation. And a healthy relationship requires independent growth as much as paired progress.
4. Body literacy gave us intimacy.
Instead of keeping the burden of pregnancy prevention solely on me, learning about fertility awareness allowed my husband and I to share the responsibility — a far more respectful and loving situation.
And knowing that I'm only fertile for a relatively short time during my monthly cycle alleviated so much of the fear and anxiety around sex, for both of us. No more unplanned pregnancy panics or concerns about condom mishaps. My fertility device is like a helpful mediator in this journey — it’s not on me alone to track and interpret my fertile signs, and it makes the conversation about where I am in my cycle simple and fun.
My fertile window is when I am most physically attracted to my husband and being aware of this has kept things fresh ten years into our relationship.
5. I know I love my husband with the “Pill goggles” off.
Research shows that the birth control pill can affect who you are attracted to — it’s all down to changes in the pheromones we give off when we're fertile and ovulating and how these are suppressed by hormonal contraceptives.
When I'm interviewed about my book, I'm often asked if coming off the Pill ruined my relationship, since there have been suggestions that some women find their partner less attractive when they stop taking the Pill. "No," I say, "I'm happily married!"
Doctors like Julie Holland (who wrote “Moody Bitches,” about the impact of hormones on our mental health) have recommended women come off the Pill before making a long-term commitment to their partner to see if they still like them with the Pill goggles off.
I’m glad to say coming off the Pill didn’t end my relationship — in fact, it actually improved my marriage.