Why The Psychology of Ownership Will Increase Financial Intimacy

Jun 14, 2023

What is the psychology of ownership?

Wow is my first reaction to the Google search for the psychology of ownership. The idea of ownership is not new to me and likely not to you. On the surface, the concept of ownership seems pretty straightforward. I bought a car so I own it. I earned this money, so it is mine. The list goes on. 


Now stop and think about it for a minute. How many problems of ownership have you run into in your life? 


That’s my toy. No, it’s mine, siblings cry out. 


That’s my inheritance. No, it’s mine, adult siblings cry out. 


That’s my land. No, it’s mine. One group cries out to the other. 


That’s my money. No, it’s ours. Spouses argue with each other. 


We have a complex legal system that tries to sort out all the nuances of ownership, yet it falls short on many levels. At least from my experience as a couples therapist, when couples are at war with each other about many different marital assets.  


However, it is worth taking the time to reflect on the psychology of ownership and why knowing about and considering how it shapes the way you approach money and relationships in your life is essential. It is also important to consider your intimate partner's psychology of ownership. 


A short overview of the psychology of ownership includes the ownership over tangible and intangible “targets” (targets being the desired object). Ownership of money can span from a single bank account (tangible) to your right to earn an income (intangible) leading to tangible income. The psychology of ownership also looks at the denial of ownership, and in intimate partnerships can be something like it is not my responsibility to pay the bills, earn money, save for the future, plan for the future, etc. 


The psychology of ownership has four dimensions identified by researchers at the University of Nebraska. They are self-efficacy, accountability, belongingness, and self-identity. Each of these dimensions works together to form a sense of psychological ownership. In Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ I am often working to help individuals and couples work on developing one or more of these elements in their financial lives. 


The study of psychological ownership points to having multiple psychological benefits, including increased participation, care for, and emotional engagement in ownership. In contrast, the loss of ownership can evoke grief, anxiety, depression, shame, and a reduction in the sense of belonging. 


Why is this important to your financial well-being and financial intimacy?

A sense of ownership impacts roles and responsibilities with household money.

In intimate relationships, there is a continual sorting process of who is responsible for what regarding money. Part of why couples get stuck in their financial life is that they are missing one or more of the dimensions of ownership. In other cases, one partner denies or minimizes the other partner's ownership of money in their relationship. 


Said another way, we don’t always have the language to describe why we are getting stuck with our partner financially. So let’s look at the four dimensions of the psychology of ownership and one of the many responsibilities a couple has with money: managing household spending. 


Moment of reflection

Who is responsible for spending in your relationship? (When we say responsible for it is implied ownership)




How does a sense of ownership impact the approach to spending?

4 - Dimensions of Ownership

1. Self-Efficacy is the sense that you can do a particular task and accomplish the desired outcome. Do both of you feel like you have self-efficacy over household spending and budget? Or has ownership been shifted to one person or the other? You are potentially creating an imbalance in ownership over household spending when only one person is responsible for household spending. 

2. Accountability is the ability to hold others and yourself accountable for the decisions and implications of those decisions. Recognizing that being in this position gives additional responsibility. Being held accountable increases ownership in the outcome of decisions. 

3. Belongingness in this context is the connection to the family. When couples feel like they both belong in the couple and the family it increases their sense of ownership over the outcomes of the family. When belongingness is threatened, it creates a tremendous psychological burden and leaves people not making the best decisions. 

4. Self-Identity is about using tangible and intangible targets to help define oneself. Remember that old bachelor couch? Or her grandmother's tea set. Perhaps it’s the family story of immigrating from their homeland. It is physical objects and groups, people, or places that all combine to develop our sense of self-identity. Self-identity is defining me. Not me. We use household money to help with developing and maintaining your self-identity. The particular way we use money is part of our self-expression. 


By developing and maturing your understanding of ownership, you can move towards increased financial well-being and financial intimacy. We can look at our money and love relationship from many different angles. The psychology of ownership provides a valuable angle for deepening our understanding and ability to work with ourselves and our partners around money. 


A large part of financial intimacy is about what motivates you and your partner to operate the way you do around money. When we look through the lens of financial ownership, we can see why things may or may not be happening in a mutually beneficial way. 


Creating a space for increased and shared ownership over your financial life can help improve your financial well-being and financial intimacy.


If you find yourself saying that it is not my problem or responsibility when it comes to money in your family, that is a denial of ownership. And while that may be true at one level, at another, it may be blocking you from joining your intimate partner in fostering a fruitful financial life for both of you. 


Sorting through the psychology of ownership is an essential part of the Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ process. When couples take the time to clarify and redefine their financial roles, they foster greater financial intimacy and the achievement of their desired goals. Feel free to schedule a 30-Minute conversation to learn how Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ can help the two of you. 


May Your Shared Ownership of Money Increase,

Ed Coambs - Therapy-Informed Financial Planner™


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