How to Live Sustainably When Your Partner Doesn't Care
Couples who find success in long-term relationships are likely to have more similarities than differences. This is especially true when it comes to values—the fundamental beliefs a person holds that make up who they are and how they make decisions.
Someone’s personal beliefs can determine many of the habits they keep—like attending church every Sunday, choosing to be vegan or living sustainably.
It’s difficult enough to be with someone who doesn’t share your religious beliefs. If they don't share your beliefs on eating meat or recycling? That could be a deal-breaker. (In fact, there’s a whole dating world of “eco-friendly singles” because it can be so hard to reconcile these differences.)
“When something is deeply important to us, it is very difficult for us to watch someone trampling all over those values,” said Raffi Bilek, a Baltimore-based couples counselor and therapist.
However, Bilek explains, if you’re willing to avoid “evangelizing” your beliefs and be flexible with your partner, there are ways to work around some of the potential issues that may arise.
You’ve put a lot of time and energy into planning a healthy and sustainably sourced dinner, but your partner isn’t interested. They’ve had a long day, they’re hungry and they just want to go out for burgers. What gives?
Depending on how flexible you’re willing to be, your partner has actually provided you with a couple of options here. Option one: you let it go and they get a burger while you eat the meal you planned. Option two: you save the meal for later and go out with them—with the understanding in mind that you choose a place with food options for both of you.
The takeaway: Compromise is key
Compromise is essential to keeping a relationship strong, but you can’t always be the one to give in. According to Bilek, you should define your boundaries ahead of time. Establish an ongoing conversation with your partner about the give and take of support in your relationship and make sure both parties' needs are being met.
You’ve arrived with your partner to the grocery store when you realize you forgot your reusable bags. Your partner doesn’t want to go back for the bags, and gets annoyed when you persist. How do you handle this?
In the immediate situation, it’s not that hard to run back out to the car for the bags. If you left them at home, you can just suck it up and buy more reusable bags when you check out. However, going forward, it might be a good idea to keep reusable bags in your car or by your door so that they’re easy to remember.
The takeaway: Mistakes happen
You won’t always go shopping together and your partner probably won’t always remember the reusable bags (if they do at all). Bilek suggests that you “assume good will.”
"Just because your partner didn't do it the way you prefer doesn't mean they don't care; they may simply not be aware enough to follow good sustainability practices all the time," he said. "If they said they're going to try, chalk it up to a mistake, not a lack of caring.”
You and your partner have plans with friends but the meeting place is across town. Your partner wants to drive because it’s faster, but you feel bad about using the car to go such a short distance, and think it would be better to bike there. How do you decide?
This can be tricky, especially if biking feels like a chore rather than a fun addition to your outing. Think about the trade-off that you’ve established with your partner and how important this one is to both of you. Is parking downtown a nightmare? Maybe that will be all it takes to sway them to bike. Is it supposed to rain? Maybe it’s okay to take the car and plan on cycling next time.
The takeaway: Keep communication open
Trying to make decisions as a unit when you aren’t on the same page about priorities can be really difficult, but if you’re committed to making the relationship work, it’s definitely doable. Bilek recommends keeping the lines of communication open. Is something your partner doing bothering you? Bottling it up doesn't do well for a long-term relationship. Being able to discuss sensitive issues with each other is an important factor in making your relationship work.
Are you in a relationship with someone who has different values or a different belief system? How do you make it work? Share in the comments.