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Here's the advice my great-grandmother gave me after 53 years of marriage
"Falling in love is easy. But you have to fall in love with someone’s soul — because you will get old, but the soul will never change."
In 2013, I interviewed my great-grandmother about her childhood, living through World War II, what she learned from 53 years of marriage, and more. Obviously, I’ve never shared this conversation before, but I think there are some life lessons in here that have withstood the test of time.
A little background on my great-grandmother: Her name is Nikolina, and she was born on April 2, 1935 in a small town in Bulgaria near the Greek border. She was one of 11 and only made it to the 7th grade before starting work to help support the family.
(Pictured below: My great-grandmother & her younger brother)
You were a kid when World War II broke out. What do you remember from that time? (Bulgaria declared neutrality when the war began, but later entered a passive alliance with the Axis. German troops used Bulgaria as a base.)
My family and others in the neighborhood took in German soldiers, giving them food & shelter as they passed through. During blackout periods, we were told to turn off all the lights and cover the windows with blankets so it would look like the town wasn’t populated. I remember complete darkness. There wasn’t a lot of food at that time — and we were 11 kids — so you just didn’t know whether you would survive.
The Germans destroyed us. Everything was in ruins after the war, and then the Bulgarian Communist Party came into power. For 15 years during the Socialist period, I would work from dark until dark. Young and old — everyone worked on the fields all day. Slowly, people started re-building their lives.
How did you meet my great-grandfather?
I met him in 1952. My sister’s husband worked with him, and they were walking together when he saw me for the first time. My brother-in-law said, “Look at how beautiful she is. Why would you even think to look at other women?” So he started hanging out around me more and more, and I couldn’t get rid of him. I was 17 years old then, and a few months later, we were married. My parents were furious because I was too young. At that time, no one married for love — but I did.
How was 53 years of marriage?
We were together for 53 years, until he passed away. I have never been with anyone else, and he’s all I knew. I can’t say our marriage was perfect, but it was a good life together.
To understand what someone will be like as a partner, you need to look at their upbringing. Your great-grandfather was the oldest sibling, and his mom allowed him to become the head of the household early on because his father was an alcoholic.
Growing up, he would protect his five younger sisters when his dad lost his temper. As a result, he was always extremely protective of me as well. And that would sometimes turn into jealousy — he thought that because I was so young when I married him that I would be curious about other people.
When you commit to someone, you can’t be curious. That shouldn’t even go through your mind. It’s an excuse that people use to escape the problems in their relationship. They think that if they quit and find someone else, the problems will go away. They won’t — there will be other, new problems. No two people are perfect, but over the years, they can help each other learn to break their bad habits.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?
There has to be compromise in the family. You need to know that there will always be disagreements, but you have to make the decision to stay together. The compromise isn’t just for the woman in the marriage; it has to apply to the man, too. When you’re young and beautiful like we were, falling in love is easy. But you have to fall in love with someone’s soul — because you will get old, but the soul will never change.
Needless to say, this is only a fraction of our conversation. Our families carry so many amazing untold stories. Unfortunately, very few of us take the time to ask them questions about their lives, their experiences, their secrets. Pick up the phone and just listen.
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