Humans, as you know, need food to survive — and many humans, as you may also know, have a lengthy, complicated relationship with food, which might help explain why sharing it can be so incredibly frustrating.
But when you share a home with someone — be it a roommate, a romantic partner or both — learning how to share food is a good way to keep the peace. In fact, studies show that sharing food with a good friend or a romantic partner might actually strengthen that relationship. Meanwhile, studies on chimpanzees suggest that sharing food releases the bonding hormone oxytocin in both the giver and receiver.
How exactly does one learn to share their precious food, though? According to our experts, the easy answer is — you guessed it — communication!
“Ideally, the person who consumes more food would offer to pay a larger share of the cost,” human behavior specialist Shelli Chosak explains. “If one person likes a kind of food more than the other, they’d also offer to pay for the cost of that food.”
If that sounds like too much nickel-and-diming, Chosak also suggests a less exacting approach. “Some couples work out the cost of food differences by compensating in other areas — for example, one person pays for all the groceries, and the other pays for all meals eaten out, or they cover the costs of household cleaning or repairs,” she explains. “The two partners can sit down and list all of the household expenses to see where there’s equality in costs and/or labor. Then, they can decide which ones each want to cover and/or share. The model is collaboration, where the decisions are made freely and jointly, and where each person feels there’s a commitment to equality and fairness.”
This is, more or less, the approach that my girlfriend and I take: We use a small whiteboard on our fridge to make a note of significant expenses — including groceries and eating out — then we compare bank statements and Venmo histories when we have a free moment. If we notice any worthwhile discrepancies, one person can simply Venmo the other right then and there. But here’s the extra important part when food is concerned: We write our grocery list together to ensure that everyone is happy with the household food supply. Simple!
But alas, if you haven’t had the food discussion yet, know that it can be heated (again, people have strong feelings about food). As such, relationships coach Annie Lavin has a few tips to help you make sure it goes well:
- Time It Right: “Deal with your gripes or issues directly, but sensitively,” Lavin says. “This includes considering when the best time to address your concerns is — i.e., not when your partner is midway through groceries and especially not when they’re hungry. If tensions are high for you or your partner, you’re starting things off on the wrong foot and could end up making things worse.”
- Know the Fix: “Consider the solution before you begin the discussion,” says Lavin. For example, if your housemate constantly consumes every potato chip in the pantry before you have the chance to nosh, maybe they should pay for the freaking chips (or you should be able to add a snack of your choice to the shared grocery list).
- Focus on the Relationship: “Frame your conversation around the impact that their behavior is having on you, and be extremely compassionate to where your partner may be coming from,” Lavin explains. “For example, you might say, ‘Darling, I’d really like to talk to you about something that’s been bothering me, but I’m really conscious about saying it because I know you probably have no idea. I have to share it, though, because I’m afraid it’s going to impact our relationship if it continues.’ Instead of focusing on your partner or pointing the finger of blame, focus on the behavior and the impact on your relationship.”
The best advice, though: If it really bothers you, it’s worth discussing. After all, you don’t want your household to fall apart over a pack of candy, do you?