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Environmental Differences of Opinion Cause Relationship Strain

posted 03:32 AM EST, Tue January 19, 2010
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Environmental Differences of Opinion Cause Relationship Strain © Photo Credit: Superbomba

Therapists say they’re seeing more cases of environmental relationship strain – difficulties that occur when one member of a relationship becomes far more environmentally active than another.

One member of a relationship wakes up to the need for permaculture, grey-water toilets and vegan eating and the other member still enjoys long steamy showers, occasional drive-through fast food dinners and long-haul flight vacations – it’s a recipe for conflict.

Therapists say they’re seeing more relationship troubles sparked by differences over degrees of ecological activism. Psychologist Thomas Joseph Doherty of Portland Oregon has a practice that centers on environmental issues and he says that as Americans get increasingly focused climate change, more people are starting to make more major changes in the way they live, saying, “It touches every part of how they live: what they eat, whether they want to fly, what kind of vacation they want.” And when one member of a relationship starts making unilateral changes, things don’t always go smoothly.

Professor Robert Brulle, who lectures on the environment at Drexel University, says that he has seen environmental differences of opinion lead to divorce, as “one still wants to live the American dream with all that means, and the other wants to give up on big materialistic consumption. Those may not be compatible.”

Experts say that strain occurs most severely when one partner suddenly awakens to the need for ecological changes in daily life and the other partner doesn’t – and say that the newly ecologically active can ease tensions in the household by making changes slowly, one step at a time.

Marriage therapist Linda Buznell of Santa Barbara says that the dinner table can often be a source of household fireworks and warns especially of moving a reluctant partner unwillingly toward vegetarianism, saying, “Food is such an emotional issue.”

Buznell says that when making changes in the household it’s best to provide a lot of explanation about the reasons for change and that, “It is like exercise. Take it slowly.”

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