THE saying "what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours", generally holds true in relationships until it comes to the issue of money, as some individuals feel it never hurts to have a secret stash for when the bumper hits the road.
Sometimes couples are able to hide their secret bank accounts, debts and expensive purchases from each other for years, but when this secret comes to light, the hurt it creates is akin to the feelings experienced upon learning that a wife or a husband has a secret love child. Some experts even go as far as to argue that this form of cloak-and-dagger dealings is just as bad as cheating with another person, and have described the act as financial infidelity.
"Financial infidelity is the secretive act of spending money, possessing credit and credit cards, holding secret accounts or stashes of money, borrowing money, or otherwise incurring debt unknown to one's spouse, partner, or significant other," explained counselling psychologist Dr Andre Allen-Casey.
High unemployment rates, recession and the increasing number of divorces have been cited as the primary factors driving couples to engage in this behaviour worldwide, and Allen-Casey, who counsels at the Family Life Ministries, believes it is a serious issue being faced by couples in Jamaica as well.
"Many couples are either too embarrassed to admit to their partners that they are either a spendthrift, a miser, a hoarder, greedy, bad money manager, or just simply want their independence. It is easier to hide these compulsions to satisfy your cravings than to be managed by another," he said.
But Maria B said embarrassment has nothing to do with her hiding over $800,000 in savings from her husband of 14 years. She believes it's just plain common sense to do so, since one can never tell what the future holds.
"Anything can happen down the road and I want to know that I have something stashed away for when it does," she said.
The wife said that she and her husband have a joint bank account and she saves towards that as well, but most of her money goes towards her secret account. She explained that although she and her husband have a very good relationship, she will never tell him about her secret stash because she doesn't want him coming to her for money, and she wants to ensure that she can help herself in the event of a divorce in the future.
"When you marry the vows tell you that you become one flesh, it never tells you that you should have one bank account," she retorted when quizzed about the promise she made to be faithful to her spouse.
Financial infidelity can manifest itself in a number of ways and might be engaged in for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. Some men, for example, might fear telling their wives that they have been laid off because they do not want to lose their respect, and so they take out large loans to take care of the household. There are those who hide the family's ballooning debt because they don't want to cause their family to worry too much.
"It is manifested in covert transactions and the unexplained concealment of the family's identity. It is manifested in the repayments of loans or bad debts that have been incurred. It is manifested when loans officers' calls are deliberately ignored," the counselling psychologist noted.
However, Allen-Casey believes that hiding debts and opening secret accounts is a form of cheating, although it does not involve intimacy.
"Since financial infidelity involves a secretive act, then withholding the truth of your finances and/or financial compulsions from your partner can be considered deceptive. Therefore, full disclosure is strongly recommended to mitigate against suspicions and accusations," he said.
But this is easier said that done as far as Keisha L is concerned. It's not like she had set out to deceive her penny-pinching boyfriend when she started lying to him about her purchases; she just got tired of him asking.
"Whenever I went shopping, he would check my receipts and would get upset if I spent over $4,000 on an item. Then he would remind me of the different utility bills we have to pay. After a while it became natural for me to just tell him that my friends gave me some of the items, lie about the cost, or just hide them when I got home," she said.
Keisha admitted that she has maxed out her credit card and has dipped into their savings to make some of her purchases, but as far as she is concerned, money was made to be spent. Plus, she said, "He really loves to see me dressed up, and that comes at a cost."
Allen-Casey pointed out that financial infidelity usually creates trust issues in a relationship.
"Trust is broken because one partner was more interested in satisfying or fixing their financial constraints. The breaking down of trust will contribute to the attrition of teamwork, a loner mentality, and the erosion of security and support," he said.