Can Green Disputes Kill a Couple? | Seventh Generation
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Can Green Disputes Kill a Couple?

Author: BethArky

Green DisputesNot that long ago, when couples fought over the green stuff, it meant only one thing: money.

But now battle lines are being drawn over a new kind of green -- the kind that involves Reducing, Reusing and Recycling. The New York Times recently reported that marriage counselors are seeing "a rise in bickering between couples and family members over the extent to which they should change their lives to save the planet."

Of course, this story is no news to me and, based on countless responses to my posts, nor is it news to many Nation members. Anyone who has been following this space knows that my efforts to green my family have run into some resistance from the DH.

Nation member jweeks quickly jumped in on one post . "Sounds like my house!" she wrote. "I keep trying to make small steps to being green and my husband fights me the whole way. The only way I can get away with any changes is if they don't affect him, but he still picks on me for it. Good to know I'm not the only one fighting that battle."

Far from it. "While no study has documented how frequent these clashes have become," the Times piece continues, "therapists agree that the green issue can quickly become poisonous because it is so morally charged." As Linda Buzzell, a Santa Barbara-based family and marriage therapist and co-editor of Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, notes, "The danger arises when one partner undergoes an environmental 'waking up' process way before the other, leaving a new values gap between them." It isn't just about throwing paper in the trash. If a couple isn't on the same page -- he wants to spend money on a gray-water system, or she wants the family to go vegetarian -- another area of conflict opens up.

And then there's the great sexual divide. Christienne deTournay Birkhahn, the executive director of the EcoMom Alliance, a group based in Marin County that educates women who want to have their families live more sustainably, finds that women often see men as not paying sufficient attention to the home. Men, for their part, "really want to make a large impact and aren't interested in a small impact," she says.

Just the same, the Times story introduces us to Gordon Fleming, who actually sounds like a pretty environmentally aware, small-impact guy: He recycles, he favors reusable shopping bags, he bikes to work. Yet his girlfriend, Shelly Cobb, feels he still isn't doing enough because, among other things, he wastes water. (Apparently, Gordon fell for Shelly before she entered what he terms her "high-priestess" phase.) If you're reading this, Shelly, I know where you're coming from. After all, I wrote about how my DH remains somewhat grossed out by my new practice of not always flushing the toilet.

And yet, for every disagreement with the DH, I see signs of hope. As I previously reported, while I continue to find no-no's like yogurt cups in the recycling bin, I'm heartened to see some of my influence rubbing off. Before he tosses a plastic container in the can, he now first thinks to ask, "Is this recyclable?" (As for those yogurt cups, I still silently fish them out and throw them away. Since becoming a mom, "pick your battles" has become a favorite mantra.)

The DH has even taken to sending me articles on green living. Just the other day, he forwarded a retail trade group's survey which shows that going green is gaining momentum despite a rough economy. Given that the biggest improvement is in the use of reusable grocery bags -- 41 percent vs. 31 percent a year ago -- I couldn't help but send him my blogs on how I joined the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) movement...just in case he missed them the first time around.

To my mind, couples already have plenty to fight about: money, in-laws, parenting styles, housework, and so on and so on. I'm not minimizing the impact on a relationship when core values are deeply at odds, but I'm going to bestow at least the same amount of patience on the DH that all of you Nation members have shown me as I stumble toward a greener way of life. After all, even as he complains, he's slowly following in my baby footsteps.

So what do Nation members think? Have your green ways brought you and your significant other closer or pushed you further apart? Do you think differing environmental philosophies are really enough to break up a relationship? Let us know.

original photo: niezwyciezony


Astrotrain picture
I don't think green disputes can KILL a couple unless it's the last straw in an otherwise fragile relationship, but it can sure be the cause of arguments. In my home, I have been going through a green transformation throughout the last year as I have learned more and more about using non-toxic products, eating organic, and consuming healthy supplements. My husband is skeptical but supportive, however I'm sure he would tell me to stop buying these greener products right away if he knew how much they really cost. Unfortunately I do have to lie about the cost of these products because he just wouldn't understand if I told him that bottle of quality Omega-3 fish oils from the health food store costs $20 vs. an $8 bottle I can get at Wal-Mart. Or that newer green detergent costs $13 for a small bottle vs. a cheaper mainstream brand. The list goes on an on. It's hard keeping these financial secrets from him but if he's blissfully unaware and it keeps us healthy and we can in the end afford it then it has to keep going. But yes, I agree if he ever found out, these "green disputes" could definitely cause arguments.
TerryGips picture
Thanks for addressing this issue. One effective tool for bringing about harmony in the household is to both attend a seminar on Sustainability and the Natural Step Framework. It's an opportunity to overcome judgments and the past and to step into the possibility for saving money and time, as well as overcoming consumerism and having a better quality of life while becoming more environmentally and socially responsible. Having led these seminars across the country, I have found it's a great way to bring entire families together and to create a better, more joyous quality of life. You can learn more on the Alliance for Sustainability's website, or contact me at
Pirogoeth picture
DH doesn't complain about my green efforts very much, but he doesn't do much to support them either. He'll put recyclables in the bin, but I'm the one who has to take them to the recycling dumpster. He looks at me strangely for recycling all plastics, since all #s are taken, not just what's got a number. I get sighed at for taking things out of the trash and putting them in the recycling. I'll probably get strange looks when we get a place where I can start composting. Then there's the lights. He insists on having both sets of ceiling lights on when we're only using one set. He leaves the light on when he leaves a room and won't be going back anytime soon. He's willing to buy better food, eat healthier, and even, resignedly, do the laundry with Seventh Generation products. But if we're out of tissues or toilet paper, he'll go buy Kleenex or Angel Soft. Grrr.
padriac picture
Here in Chicopee, MA plastics are not really the problem with our recycling program basically anything plastic goes into the bin...even if we have to occasionally cut up a giant plastic tub past it's useful life (read busted beyond reason) to get it in there. (we can recycle everything from #1 to #7 plastics) Our problem here is paper. We used to be able to recycle all types of paper products but they changed it a year or so into the program so now we have to throw out our egg cartons, orange juice type cartons, etc... Also for some reason we are not allowed to throw in light bulbs, dishes, glasses. The only reason I've been able to get from the recycling company is that "it must have something to do with safety concerns" which leaves me to believe the people I was finally able to talk to had no idea either. We're supposed to be getting a new company handling the recycling next year who takes EVERYTHING and recycles it...even a once a year tech pick up.
abnorthrop picture
Most yogurt cups are made out of # 5 pp plastic. If the kind you eat is made out of #5 pp then whole foods is currently collecting #5 pp plastic so take any #5 pp plastic to your local Whole Foods store and recycle, recycle, recycle! Also, most prescription bottles from the pharmacy are #5 pp plastic so you can also bring these with lids attached to your local Whole Foods store as well.
youluckybug picture
I had a real chuckle over the "high-priestess" comment. My husband thinks I'm going through a mid-life crisis with my new found environmental awakening a few years ago. He's also slowly coming on board but has been most resistent to going vegetarian. My mantra: baby steps, baby steps....
Historygal3 picture
I've been there too. I am much more green than my husband, but I've found compromise and not pushing your beliefs works out well. When I decided to become a vegetarian I did not push it on my husband; however, I did inform him that I would no longer be cooking meat at home. He could either cook it himself or eat it when we were out. Needless to say over 80% of his meals are now vegetarian. Sometimes I even catch him bragging about how green we are or how little meat we eat, as if the whole thing was his idea. Oh and condoblues, we also developed a compromise for the running situation. When I train for marathons my husband rides his bike next to me. Not only do we both get exercise and get to spend time together, but I also get to use him as a pack mule for all my water and snacks. picture
I am definitely whole hog into living as green as I possibly can. My wife on the other hand isn't as enthusiastic. We compost and recycle. Getting the other household members to actually put food scraps into the bucket that goes into the compost bin can be a real chore and is a constant source of arguments when I find food in the regular garbage. If it was a an occasional slip...that would be one thing, but this is a constant. I also have issues with water usage and not turning lights off. I also take a green tack because with some of the green measures I try to take, also save us money. Composting means we don;t have to buy as many garbage stickers every week because we have greatly reduced the amount of trash going to the curb. We have 3 adults and 2 children living here, so we do produce a lot of trash. Out electric bill is outrageous. We are renting, so there isn't much I can do to make things more efficient, but the simple act of shutting off lights and TV's would be a great step in the right direction. So yeah, I can see how when one person is green and the other isn't can kill a relationship.
CondoBlues picture
I really think the key for any relationship is to realize that both parties are not going to be 100% complaint in all areas of their lives and be willing to make some compromises. This doesn't just go for green living but other areas of your life as well. For example, my husband is a middle distance runner and loves his hobby. Me? The only way I'm running for fun is if there's a shoe sale. But I support his hobby and attend every race he runs in. Besides, someone has to hold his stuff and carry his reusable water bottle while he's running a race :) My husband and I have a rule that neither of us can yell or be sarcastic if the other one forgets or slips in the others area of green focus. Having more than one way to green something also helps. The Plan B may not be the 100% Greenzilla approach but sometimes life throws you a curveball and in the interest of martial harmony, we work with it. Having a sense of humor helps. My husband chided me for driving to the other side of the city to buy Seventh Generation's Carpet Cleaner when there are a bunch of stores within biking distance of our house. I said that store was the only one that carried the carpet cleaner and that I wanted to clean the interiors of our cars in a way that would be safe for our rescue dog. Then he was OK with it. When it comes to the health and safety of our dog, we are a united front. But we still laugh that I was willing to do this for the dog's sake and not his or mine. Not really but it's funnier if we think of it that way.
rjjorgen picture
Many places only accept #1 or #2 plastic for curbside recycling. #5 plastic (the plastic most commonly used in yogurt tubs) isn't often picked up with the regular recycles. Most major cities have some places that they can be brought for recycling, but most recycling companies only do #1/#2 (plastics with necks, like milk jugs, pb containers, pop bottlers, etc). Often times, if a recycler finds too many "contaminants" (non-recyclable items) in a bin the whole bin may be thrown away, so putting non-recyclables in the recycling bin jeopardizes the recyclability of the whole thing.
pfontova picture
So what's bad about yogurt cups in the recycling bin? I must have missed something somewhere.