Ask Umbra gives relationship advice to a couple battling it out over 'eco-stress'
Send your question to Umbra!
Q. Dear Umbra,
This is a personal question, but hopefully you can help. My husband and I met when I was 20. I “woke up” to the destructive nature of our consumer lifestyle at 25. Still in love with my husband at age 30, I am wrestling with our vastly different levels of commitment to changing said lifestyle. I would like to go to a therapist that can bring us together on this issue, but I can’t find one that shares my concern for the environment. I’m tired of compromising my values. He’s tired of compromising the conveniences and luxuries he feels he’s “earned” at his corporate job. I feel trapped; he feels judged. Do we keep compromising, or do we divorce and find more like-minded mates? Do you know of any resources for people like us?
A. Dearest Michelle,
I think it was Shakespeare who said, “The course of true love never did run smooth, especially when there’s climate change.”
Take some comfort in knowing you’re not alone, Michelle. More and more couples are having disagreements as we collectively learn about the impact of our consumerism. Couples in the U.K. are fighting over how much water is getting boiled in the teakettle. Pairs there and elsewhere are squabbling over leaving the lights on vs. turning them off. I once caught a certain redhead gruffly saying to her significant other on a mission to buy a shower curtain, “No vinyl, that’s final!” It can happen to the best of us.
Your different levels of commitment to sustainability don’t have to be a deal-breaker.
So before recycling your wedding band, take inspiration from the Fixers’ Collective and repair what you have. It sounds like you and your husband love each other and are committed to the relationship, a solid foundation on which to retrofit your marriage. (And while you’re at it, you may want to do some of that to your house, which will save money, often a good way to help sway the not-so-convinced-or-interested.)
Couples therapy can be a useful resource. There are therapists out there who care about environmental issues, even some who do something called Eco-Therapy. But don’t expect a therapist to “take your side” because they share your “concerns for the environment.” A more helpful expectation is that therapy will reframe your problems, giving you both communication tools to navigate any disagreement together.
“It’s important to listen to your partner and support him,” notes therapist and licensed clinical social worker Sarah Gentry. “If you want to be listened to, it helps to listen a lot.”
You say he feels judged and you feel trapped. I say open the door, step outside, and throw judgment into that compost pile you’ve been tending. “Try to appreciate his ability to give you room to pursue living more sustainably,” adds Gentry.
And have a little fun! Share what you enjoy about your values, Michelle. In the process, your fella is likely to discover living mindfully and living luxuriously are not mutually exclusive.
What are your favorite parts of living a more sustainable life? What fascinates you? Delights you? The way to a person’s heart is through the stomach, so food is a great place to start. Local, seasonal, organic food can itself become a positive reinforcement for a new set of values. Has he tried a freshly laid egg from a local farm? Once it cracks, he’ll never go back. Share your good taste at a locavore farm-to-table restaurant like Roots, or the Hinterland Gastropub near you.
You’ll catch more flies with local honey, honey. Try shopping together at a local farmers market. Fair-trade organic chocolates won’t hurt, either. But if you pull something, consider getting massages at an eco-friendly day spa, an “extravagance” you both can feel good about. Give your guy an experience to remember, rather than an object, this holiday season. Perhaps a romantic train trip to a biodynamic winery?
You could stay at a wind- and solar-powered eco-village for your next vacation. Or enjoy a staycation while spicing up your beau’s sense of sustainability. In the sack! Renewable, sumptuous bamboo sheets and DIY lube made from flax seeds can be gamechangers. Hey, any entry point will work!
Sharing this type of enjoyment together will also beging shifting your hubby’s behavior. Behavior change is the name of the game in sustainability, as it leads to changes in beliefs, as my colleague David Roberts has so eloquently written about of late.
Michelle, my belle, I wish you and yours the best.
Love is all you need — which means love is impressively sustainable.
Get off your ass alert:
Have a Movie Date: Pop some local corn and sit down for the relatable, entertaining and inspiring tale of a couple with different values and ensuing “eco-stress” in the movie No Impact Man — starring Colin Beavan and his Prada-wearing, very funny wife Michelle.
Want therapy? Do a search in your area and ask trusted friends for recommendations for either a Licensed Marriage Family Therapists, a therapist trained in Imago relationship therapy, or one who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Ask a Question.
Readers can upvote a question; Umbra answers it!