By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride, by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand (Sophia Institute Press).

Perhaps it’s just me, but I once had a tendency to think of marriage in terms of romance. I had often been told that even the best marriages must weather rough times – but I was sure that mine wouldn’t. As far as I was concerned, my future wedded life would be one long honeymoon – no troubles, no worries, no fights, and, of course, he would always put the cap back on the toothpaste.

I knew this was an irrational view, but I really had no idea what to expect from marriage until I read By Love Refined: Letters to a Young Bride by Dr. Alice von Hildebrand.

What is a single young adult like me doing with a book like this? I’m learning a little bit about how marriage is supposed to work and preparing for what one day may be my vocation.

Alice von Hildebrand lays it on the line for “Julie,” the newlywed to whom she writes letters which often encourage and sometimes chastise. When Julie complains that her husband constantly cracks his knuckles, von Hildebrand prefaces her letter with sympathy, and writes, “It’s a small thing which it would be best to ignore, but small things sometimes get on our nerves.” She then points out that marriage means seeing another person day and night and having to deal with his odd traits.

Continuing, she says, “When you isolate his habit and pay great attention to it, you mentally equate his personality with his problems and begin to view him more as an object than as a person. It’s a bit like taking a picture of someone when he happens to be yawning. During those few seconds, it’s true that he looks the way the picture represents him, but the actual yawn which lasts for only the twinkle of an eye has been prolonged by the photograph and therefore deformed and caricatured. To see anyone ‘from the outside’ is a lack of charity.”

Throughout the book, the author gives excellent practical and spiritual advice on how to handle the many everyday difficulties which can arise in marriage. One of her themes concerns what she calls a “Tabor vision” of one’s spouse. The phrase refers to the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, when the Apostles saw Christ in His glory. “Similarly,” she tells Julie, “when you fell in love with Michael, you saw his true face, his unique beauty: with the eyes of love, you were granted a ‘Tabor vision’ of Michael.”

She encourages spouses, especially during moments of frustration, to recall what the other is truly like inside – that it is sin and fallen nature which draw us away from what we were meant to be. She tells Julie to remember her husband’s goodness and his true self.

I must admit to having become discouraged while reading the book. Once I actually exclaimed, “That’s it! I could NEVER get married! It’s just too hard!” Then my mother, ever the voice of love and reason, reminded me that the sacrament of marriage brings with it special graces which help you forgive and love deeply – if, of course, you choose to accept those graces.