When we lived for two years in Toronto, Canada's largest city, I learned that there exists a very specialized area in the counselling field: couples renovation therapy. It seems that buying a home is easier than renovating one. Buying a home involves dreams and goals and wishes. Renovating a home gets partners down to the nitty gritty of what they truly want to live with in their daily lives — and often, partners cannot come to agreement as they turn their dreams into reality.
I'm now realizing that there should be another sub-specialty in therapy: counselling for couples who are differently aligned with or not both committed to the fight to safeguard the future from climate chaos.
I'm hearing more and more about couples struggling, setting ground rules, getting counselling, even breaking up because one partner is more committed than the other and spends more time working on climate change than the other. Here are some of the scenarios.
B is not allowed to talk about global warming and climate change in the home.G is in couples counselling because his wife wants more balance in their life.M has been told if he's going to work that hard on something, it should be bringing money into the family.J sometimes has to explain to her husband that she can't spend as much time on climate change as he'd like because they would starve wearing filthy clothes in a dark, dirty house. Someone in a family has to shop, clean and pay the bills.And dare we speculate that his inconvenient activism might have played a role in Al and Tipper Gore's divorce in 2010?
Some spouses simply have a different tolerance level for the pain of thinking about climate change. And without acting, that pain gnaws away at the heart and soul. So if one spouse feels he or she can't give much time to climate change (because of work, home or health issues), then they could come to resent all the time spent on climate change by their partner ... it serves as a constant reminder of their own pain and inaction.
Where does compassion come in? Well, on both sides. Climate change super heroes, you have to remember that your spouse likely didn't marry you for your interest in safeguarding humanity's future. You, likely, have changed — along with the climate. So, please, at the very least, keep this in mind when your spouse begs you to take a break and watch a movie or go on vacation without your computer. Respect your partner's need for companionship and time together.
And spouses, well, change happens, even in the tightest of relationships. Heck, if the global climate can change, you can't expect your marriage to stay the same forever. Blame it on the deniers! If it weren't for them, your spouse's climate change activism would take a lot less time. So either decide to be grateful for your super hero's commitment to the future of all the children of all species, or take just a few minutes each week to write a letter — to a denier, or an elected official, or a media outlet. Learn how action serves as a painkiller ... that the pain subsides when we do something. And whatever you do, please don't give your resident climate change campaigner an ultimatum ("it's climate change or our marriage"). First, we need all the help we can get! And second, you might not like the choice he or she makes.
My heart goes out today to every couple who never imagined that climate change would come between them. And may your hearts go out every day to all those in the world already losing their loved ones or their livelihoods, their food security and water sources, their homes and their entire homelands because of this dastardly climate change emergency.
Let's be supportive of each other and ensure that our homes are our refuges from the loneliness of doing this important work. Till death do us part.