‘Marriage geek’ offers her take on love and fidelity

December 7, 2016 | Artbeat | Volume 20 Issue 24
Kelley Hughes | MennoMedia

If self-confessed “marriage geek” Katherine Willis Pershey knows one thing after 14 years of marriage, it’s that couples bound together in a sacred covenant need more than cheery how-to advice on achieving marital bliss.

The author and pastor offers a bracing dose of reality about the “agony, ecstasy, and tedium of wedlock” in her new book, Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity from Herald Press.

Calling herself “an apologist for marriage,” Pershey says, “I believe that the practice of two people entering into a lifelong monogamous relationship is worthwhile. I ardently hope marriages can be saved, and that marriage as an institution can be redeemed.”

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She considers various changing cultural attitudes toward marriage in the pages of Very Married, and offers her theological convictions with an interest that is more than pastoral—it’s personal. “Marriage is the fundamental fact of my life; as surely as I live and move and have my being in God, so, too, do I live and move and have my being within the bonds of marriage,” she writes.

Pershey and her husband Benjamin got married young—on her 22nd birthday—and the early years were rocky. In Very Married, she draws from her own experience and the stories of other couples to “consider how our love has flourished and where it has floundered . . . the ways the vows of our marriage covenant have made us free and the ways they have yanked us away from peril.”

Among the topics she explores:

  • On being a difficult person married to a difficult person: Pershey says that she and her husband “were slowly poisoning our love with exasperation, acrimony, and on our worst nights, utter contempt.” They have learned they can reconcile, forgive and change, “but only as long as neither of us gives up.”
  • On sex outside of marriage: “I might actually believe that sex is for married people,” she admits. Wounded by premarital sex, she believes “the contrast between unmarried and married sex is significant. The covenant of marriage—the vows to love now and forever—changes everything. It just does.”
  • On temptation: Finding herself attracted to a friend she now thinks of “as the person with whom I did not have an affair,” Pershey told her husband about it. Although it stung him, “it was a hurt he could sustain, because he understood that at the root of what I was telling him was that I was trustworthy.”
  • On divorce: “The presence of divorce on the table means there is an enormous blinking asterisk” indicating the marriage is until death do us part, “unless . . . things happen.” That may be enough to “tear marriages asunder that could be redeemed,” Pershey says. Yet she also prays “for all the people who suspect their lives were saved by divorce; for all the people who imagine they could only ever receive judgment, not compassion, from a member of the clergy; for all the people who meant forever but didn’t make it.”
  •  On the Christian call to love: Marriage requires mutual practices of care, attention and servanthood. “If a Christian has a calling to live a life of love—modelled after the ways of Jesus and rooted in the great commandments to love God and neighbour—a married Christian is first and foremost charged to live this life within his or her own household.”

Very Married grew out of an article Pershey wrote for Christian Century magazine, which became the magazine’s most-read article online in 2015. The book’s title comes from actress Audrey Hepburn’s response to being asked if she would ever marry: “If I get married, I want to be very married.”

That’s how Pershey sees her own marriage. As she reveals in the book, her marriage isn’t perfect, “but we are nevertheless very married. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

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