Can Green Disputes Kill a Couple?
Not 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.