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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Money drama


Tony Best

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Money drama

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A Bajan professional in New York City insists she never committed adultery but she admits to infidelity.
What’s the difference?
The woman who is in her fifties never went to bed with someone other than her partner of more than 30 years, but she acknowledged engaging in financial infidelity, an act that like sexual wrongdoing can and does undermine trust and can reduce intimacy.
“I loved buying shoes and one day I went to the store, paid for five pairs, brought them home and not knowing how to tell my partner I hid them from him,” the woman recalled recently.
“I didn’t want him to know what I had done, that I had spent so much money on shoes, so I hid them under the sink and left them there. Sometime later we were going out and I couldn’t find shoes to match my outfit and I asked for his opinion. He said calmly, ‘go look under the sink where you put the shoes you bought and you would find the perfect pair to wear.’
That was how he let me know he had found the shoes.”
That episode led to a solution to her shoe fetish: “We talked about it and he understood what drove me to do what I had done and there was never a need again for me to hide anything from him,” the woman said.
“Our finances are co-mingled and we talk about everything, especially our relationship and our finances.”
Dr Janice J. Farley, a Barbadian clinical psychologist in New York City, said the woman’s action was commonplace in Barbados and the United States.
“It’s far more common than couples and individuals in Barbados are willing to admit,” said the clinician and educator who has taught psychology at Mercy College, Downstate Hospital Medical Centre of the State University of New York and at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. “Couples do it regularly.”
Broadly defined, financial infidelity is the secretive act of spending money, hoarding funds, borrowing loans or otherwise incurring debts unknown to one’s spouse or partner. According to recent research in the United States, financial infidelity is on the rise and it disrupts relationships; drags down one in ten marriages; adversely affects one in three otherwise smooth partnerships; and undermines trust between couples.
“Financial infidelity,” says Dr Farley, who counsels couples in the City, can be traced to a desire by an individual in an intimate or interpersonal relationship to protect oneself. It is fuelled by a need for financial security just in case a husband or spouse decides to end a relationship abruptly.
“Quite often you hear women say the reason they hoard money without their partner’s knowledge is to gain a measure of independence so that if a husband or significant other cleans out the bank account, she wouldn’t be left high and dry,” explained the psychologist.”
As Dr Farley sees it, infidelity may be wrong but it gives men and women an enhanced “sense of self” in an era when women are earning more and more money; are occupying better-paying and more powerful jobs; and can do things which were once considered off-limits to them.
It may be something as simple as possessing a credit card in their own name, one which didn’t depend on the spouse or that he didn’t know anything about.
“Credit cards satisfy the need to assert one’s individuality,” the clinician contends. “People want to be independent and have security financially and psychologically and credit cards provide that. Women can use credit cards to buy what they need and you would often hear them say ‘I have my own money’ and I can spend it.’ You know, almost every woman has hidden something from her spouse at some time in their relationship. Men do it too. It’s not exclusive to the female.”
The psychologist was quick to warn against financial infidelity because it can lead to “addictive behaviour”, especially after a person has succeeded in hiding purchases, opening bank accounts and acquiring property the first time they did it.
“There is a propensity to move from hoarding money or spending it to addictive behaviour like gambling, drinking or secretly holding more money in such a way that it gets out of control,” Dr Farley warned.
“Men who engage in financial infidelity by secretly spending or hoarding, begin that behaviour to assert their individuality but far too often it moves into something else like drinking or even gambling. I’ve had a patient who told me that his wife ‘wants to spend his money but hold onto hers’ and that was why he concealed funds from her.”
Oddly enough, the counsellor believes Barbados’ current economic troubles, the lay-offs, rising prices and cutbacks in Government spending and difficulties private firms are experiencing can lead to a reduction in financial infidelity.
“Couples in Barbados have less money to spend and they must therefore pool their resources even more,” she said. “They have to talk more and have to cut back on expenditure and don’t have extra funds to spend or to hoard. Not only will they talk more but they must listen to each other even more.”
And a major solution to financial infidelity – conversing and trusting more. “A major solution is having conversations about finances. People can talk but they must also listen,” she insisted. “You know we are good talkers but we are often not good listeners. Conversations hold a key to infidelity” of the financial kind.
Tony Best is a veteran journalist and NATION New York correspondent.

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