I’m struggling with my long-time girlfriend because we have very different stands on an issue that’s extremely important to me.
I’ve been passionately involved in environmental advocacy since high school and now am employed by an environmental nonprofit. I’m highly invested in my work because I believe that there is no more important issue than keeping our planet livable. So in my personal life, I aim to live sustainably (usually walking/biking, small though very comfy condo, mainly vegan diet).
Marissa has very different priorities from me. She sometimes mocks my work and my choices, telling me that I’m really not going to make a difference, and that I’m too severe, although I treat myself very well and enjoy my lifestyle. When she talks like this, I feel really disrespected and unsupported. And when I ask her to stop, she says she’s only joking and that I have no sense of humor.
On the flip side, it’s true that I don’t respect some of her choices — let’s just say she’s leaving a pretty big environmental footprint. I don’t really hide my reactions from her and while she usually blows them off, this whole thing is causing frequent tension.
To make matters seriously worse, lately I’ve been filled with tremendous despair as signs of global warming are becoming more ominous. I’m starting to feel hopeless about the future and wonder what the point is of even having a relationship, much less having kids as we’ve planned, when the planet is going to hell. My bleak mood isn’t helping us have many good times recently, and is increasing the tension because Marissa thinks my worrying is ridiculous.
Believe it or not, outside of this stuff, which is major, we have had a great connection and many good times. Intellectually, I believe that two people with different priorities can be a couple, but is there such a thing as being too different?
I often tell couples I work with that the hardest part about being in a relationship is figuring out how to deal with the major differences that inevitably arise between two people. Every couple has to deal with this struggle at some point in their relationship.
The most important thing for both you and Marissa to remember is that you aren’t going to convince the other person that you are right and she is wrong. It’s pointless to try and will only result in each of you feeling disrespected, just as is happening now.
Yes, it’s hard to respect someone else’s decisions and actions when they’re antithetical to your deeply held beliefs. Nevertheless, it’s not possible for you to change how your girlfriend thinks and behaves, so the best that you can do is accept that she has some aspects that you really dislike, and decide whether you want to stay with her anyway. The same is true for Marissa, of course, and for all couples with major disagreements.
I want to advocate for each of you to stop overtly criticizing the other, whether in jest or in disgust. All this does is create bad feelings. That isn’t to say that you should start pretending that you love your girlfriend’s choices when they’re actually the opposite of all you believe. It’s about being respectful in your manner, words, tone and facial expressions. And although you can never count on changing your partner, you may find that you’re actually better positioned to influence her to see your point of view when you aren’t hitting her over the head with the righteousness of your position. Again, I say this to both you and Marissa, and to all couples who have different points of view about weighty issues.
As far as your hopelessness goes, I can certainly understand it, as our planet’s wellbeing seems ever more in danger. Only you can decide if it’s worth your living with hope in the face of possible calamity, while doing all you can to help bring about a better future. I do know that life is always fragile, and that none of us ever has a guarantee of how things will turn out.
I wish you the best in your relationship and in your important work.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.