Health & Medicine

Instead of saving the planet, save your relationship

As if couples didn’t have enough problems. Now there’s a new topic they can fight about — green-ness. It seems spouses are waging battles over their recycling habits, and they’re streaming into marriage counselors’ offices in search of some relief.

It’s logical they should have disagreements. Partners bring a whole Prius-ful of values with them to the altar, many of which are in direct conflict with those of their husband or wife.

Rather than arguing over those disparities, couples should ideally work together to resolve them as they crop up.

If she strives for better gas mileage but he wants neck-snapping acceleration, they might research and test drive various models, ultimately choosing one that meets both their needs.

What too often happens, however, is that one member of the household assumes a Machiavellian stance toward environmental issues and demands that everyone follow in his or her low-carbon tracks. For instance, a husband may insist that the thermostat be turned down to 66 degrees, requiring his wife to wear sweaters and scarves when she’s indoors. No matter how much she shivers in protest, he refuses to budge one icy inch.

These well-intentioned folks may indeed shave pennies off their utility bills or reduce the amount of trash they send to the landfill. But their heavy-handed tactics exact a toll on their relationships that can’t be measured by satellites or in therms. When family members’ needs are negated or ignored, they feel unloved. If their values are overshadowed, they feel unimportant. If they are met with ongoing criticism, they feel stupid and resentful.

Few avid environmentalists would state marital discord as their primary goal. They’re merely trying to save the planet. They view their behaviors as morally just.

I completely understand their perspective. I, too, am zealous in my recycling habits. I lovingly tend my worm bin. Our household frequently generates less than one small bag of garbage in a week.

Still, I must be careful not to inflict my mores on others. Yes, I cringe when my husband runs the water as he brushes his teeth. I gasp if he goes to the grocery without taking reusable bags.

But the problem is mine, not his.

He’s a conscientious recycler. He gladly uses rechargeable batteries. He’s forever fixing broken items and pressing them back into service, instead of replacing them with new ones. He’s perfectly willing to scrape table scraps into the compost bucket.

Even if he weren’t such a good planetary steward, he’s a perfectly delightful spouse. Environmentalism isn’t a make-or-break issue. It’s not worth creating undo conflict or potentially ruining a marriage.

The problem with fanatics is that their behavior is so, well, fanatical. They jump onto their personal bandwagons, then demand that everyone within earshot hops on, too.

Fanatics’ current obsessions aren’t the issue. It’s their die-hard tactics that create consternation. By all means, hold your viewpoint. Don’t require your loved ones to follow suit.

I will definitely continue recycling. I’ve done so all of my life. Yet, my marriage is even more important. I value a calm and stable relationship more than my worms and solar panels combined. I’ll choose to be pleasant and to get along with my husband over nearly every value that I hold. That’s true environmentalism in my book.

Do it as a team

Want recycle with your spouse? Try these tips to improve your relationship and reduce your amount of waste:

• Start slow. Don’t try to save the planet all at once. Select one area at a time and make small changes you can both embrace.

• Make it easy. You’re both more likely to recycle if it’s convenient and simple to do. For instance, keep a container for recyclables next to the trash bin so you separate or discard in one motion.

• Buy environmentally friendly gifts. Select cards made from recycled paper. Purchase a pot of live herbs she can use in the kitchen. Buy him a selection of rechargeable batteries and a charger. You’ll both be on the same recycling page and enjoying the others’ ecological efforts.

• Work together. Start a compost pile. Plant a garden. Make jam out of fruit from a neighbor’s tree. Look for ways you can reduce and reuse while having fun as a twosome.

• Do it yourself. If your partner is never going to recycle, don’t worry. He or she has wonderful qualities that you adore. Don’t focus on this one difference. Find activities that you share. And recycle quietly on your own.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit