Of Green Disputes and Mad Men

Green DisputesIn Washington, we’re mostly accustomed to relationships where both partners are of the same political persuasion. Blue man with blue woman. Red man with red woman. But what if only one of the partners is green? Leslie Kauman writes in the NY Times about how more and more therapists report that their clients are experiencing green disputes. For instance, a wife who collects all the plastic bottles from the family at a sandwich shop to take home for recycling may frustrate the husband who’s more focused on getting the kids all packed up as they leave. Small disputes such as this are one thing, but what if one spouse decides that the family should become vegetarian so that they’re all eating lower on the food chain?

The phenomenon of green conflict is the result of the collision of human nature with recent social trends. As a result of what’s called assortative mating, people tend to pick partners who have similar values (in addition to many other characteristics, such as age and education level). Political values may be the best example of this. Environmentalism is becoming one of these values. If you’re a fan of the popular serial Mad Men on AMC, then you may remember that scene at the end of a family picnic where Don Draper shakes all their trash off their ground cloth, leaving it lying around in an otherwise pristine park. No one does that anymore.

Most values exist on a spectrum and new ones are accepted or rejected slowly. With the rise of the environmental movement, one partner may start adopting a certain level of environmental values that the other is not. Thus, conflict.

Disagreement about values can be so nasty because when our partner disagrees with us it’s easy to feel like they’re disagreeing with a core part of ourselves. That can lead to an almost automatic, visceral response: disagreeing, lashing out, devaluing the other’s perspective. Remember that the issue is just that, another perspective. You partner is not rejecting you or the importance of your values; they just have another perspective. If you can accept that, and be curious about their perspective, then it probably won’t seem so threatening, or wrong.

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