Bond through life passages — 19 August 2006
Sharing is a good relationship practice

From early childhood we are told that we must learn to share our toys and belongings with others. We are also coached to associate sharing with being a good person and friend. Interestingly enough, as firmly as this lesson is preached, the skill of sharing is hard to practice throughout our lives and relationships.

Couples often struggle with various issues that are related to sharing. Transitioning from being single to being a half of a committed relationship labels the problem from the start. Mates have to agree on sharing their space, their belongings, their money, time and attention. So why after all the years of indoctrination into a sharing mode does one keep struggling to achieve this function easily?

The answer lies in the fact that sharing is a social need that supports groups, but is not in line with the instinctual survival need of each individual. The person who gets more of the food, the roomier space, the better advantage of any asset is more likely to thrive. Instinctually, we are programmed to grab, horde, collect and amass rather than delight in sharing the resources. Having more than enough for immediate use helps guarantee that one will be able to withstand times of scarcity.

In addition to survival dictates, getting one’s choice at all times affirms one’s worth. Children learn the word “mine” very early and utilize it for significance and power. Considering the need of others is a higher moral and social awareness that is learned, not innate.

Sharing what is mine restricts my freedom to have my wishes indulged at my whim. Children do not understand why they should share, which they view as willingly depriving themselves of what they want. We have seen youngsters fight for a toy, only to abandon it once they get their way. It is not the need for the object that matters; it is the freedom to have it at will.

Not dissimilarly, many couples fight about: their individual space in the house, their choice about orderliness and tidiness, their access to the blankets in the couple’s bed, the sharing of the bathroom, their say about use of money, child rearing practices, the connection with each other’s family. Though some of these seem minor compared to others, the intensity of emotions is often equally high since it signifies one’s mattering within the union.

Some pairs argue about unfair practices, where one is held to a higher standard than the other, or that resources are more heavily utilized for one mate, or that activities are more often determined by the choice of the other person. Some of these and other similar fights also reflect the complexity of sharing. The attempt to make everything equal and fair in relationships is an untenable practice.

Couples need to consider:

• Sharing is hard and counterintuitive. Partners need to view their TEAM needs as the new survival gauge – not their former individual preferences.

• With this view mates must negotiate, compromise, take turns, cooperate, consider and weigh their mate’s satisfaction, since it leads to both partners’ happiness.
• Capitulate to the more intense needs provided that they are not consistently those of one mate. Give with love – rather than with resentments.
• Abandon the idea that sharing can be exactly equal and fair -it is unachievable. Fairness is a subjective assessment rarely shared fully by any two individuals. Equal is also hard to determine because every choice is differently weighed. What matters is that it is satisfactory and considerate, not absolutely balanced.
• Sharing is easier if it is done willingly, rather than coerced. Give yourself the opportunity to be generous and kind toward your partner. Both of you will feel better.
• Claim what truly matters to you after you have clarified and explained the significance of needing an item in dispute. Some of our non-sharing inclinations have their roots in childhood, not the current relationship. Explaining this may help your partner compromise more easily.
• If what you need today is not going to matter in the near future, it probably not worth demanding to have it. Ask yourself if it is the privilege or asset that matters or what having it means to you?
• Talk to your partner lovingly. The power struggle only distances mates and leaves both unhappy and unresolved. Using cooperative language and goodwill facilitates greater sharing of the physical world, which leads to heightened closeness and intimacy.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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