By Hara Estroff Marano, published on January 1, 2009 - last reviewed on March 23, 2009
My wife and I fell in love the summer after high school. We went to separate colleges for a year before she transferred to my school. We married after college, have been together 40 years, and have a great relationship. Three months ago I reread the letters I wrote her in college, which reignited insecurities about her fidelity during the year she was away. When I asked, she admitted she had dated, but only once. She insists she did nothing and doesn't want to discuss anything about that time. We burned all the letters and I've stopped asking her about them, but I'm heartbroken. We've raised three kids and have been through financial and health difficulties. But I lie awake nights imagining what she did and with whom. Is there a statute of limitations on infidelity?
Why are you willing to let some fanciful scenarios of what may or may not have happened when you were still teenagers refute 40 years of demonstrated love and loyalty? It's hard to call "infidelity" what may or may not have occurred before you committed to each other. Your wife was honest with you about dating when it could have been easier to lie. What more of a test of character and commitment do you need? It's entirely possible she does not remember what happened over 40 years ago, as it long receded in importance. And it is even more likely that your sudden questioning disturbs her. She has demonstrated her fidelity by marrying you, building a family with you, and being loving all this time. Perhaps the concerns that long-ago year have awakened in you have little to do with her behavior then and much more to do with your feelings now. In all likelihood, your wife's ancient actions are proxy for new worries of your own stimulated by financial and health setbacks. It maybe easier to posit some character flaw in your wife, with "proof" that it's been there all along, than to face fears about your own potentially circumscribed future and to accept changes in yourself suggesting that you are not the same person today as 40 years ago. It's time to put your fears to rest. You two have built a life together and have a great shared history. Above all, let her know how much you appreciate the love and commitment she has shown all these years. Use the loving relationship you have to unburden yourself about your real concerns about the future. Doing so will draw you closer.