Gordon Fleming and Shelly Cobb are your typical green California couple. Gordon recycles, reuses and bikes to work. Shelly raises chickens in their backyard and worries if her sushi is local, according to the NY Times. They might live in eco-harmony — except Fleming claims Cobb is in a "high priestess" phase, and Cobb counters that Fleming’s hot showers are too long. According to an unrepentant Fleming, “I like to see the water pouring down.”

The Times recently reported that they are not alone. Therapists say they are seeing a rise in bickering between couples and family members about how much they should adjust their lives to accommodate environmental issues. Apparently, it is driving some couples eco-insane.

Friends or family members who are not devoted to the environmental cause can become irritated by life choices they view as self-righteous or politically correct. The reason green issues can seem so contentious is because, at their core, they're about morals. The green battle lines are going up in homes across the country over who uses reusable bags, who buys organic eggs, and who calculates his or her carbon footprint.

Linda Buzzell is a family and marriage therapist and co-editor of “Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind.” According to Buzzell, “The danger arises when one partner undergoes an environmental ‘waking up’ process way before the other, leaving a new values gap between them.” Further, Buzzell points out that the effects of such environmental differences can be especially severe amongst couples. 

Robert Brulle is a professor of environment and sociology at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and he agrees. Brulle said he had seen divorces among couples who realized that their values were putting them on very different long-term plans. Brulle points out that, in the end, when one partner wants to give up materialistic consumption and the other wants to live the American dream, there could be a problem. Ultimately, these two people may not be compatible in the end.

And it’s not just couples. Others report that family visits can be equally eco-contentious. Cherl Petso is an editor of an online magazine who lives in Seattle. Petso told the Times that trips to visit her parents in Idaho can be less than green because she and her mother interpret each other’s choices as judgmental. Vegan meals prepared by Petso find her parents contributing hot dogs. Her mother prefers the way food tastes when it is served on Styrofoam. If Petso uses a reusable plate, her mother points out that washing dishes has its own environmental costs.

So can we all just learn to get along? Actor Ed Begley Jr. famously captures what it means to live with a true greenie in his reality TV show, Living with Ed. His comfort-loving Hollywood wife Rachelle is a constant thorn in his green side. Ed likes to bike ride. Rachelle is not a “bike-riding girl.” Hilarity ensues.

In the meantime, concessions can be made. As Fleming told the Times, he hasn’t cut down on his online shopping. But he will put the delivery boxes in the recycling bins, if only to “avoid scrutiny.”

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Going green tearing your family apart?
Therapists report a rise in domestic green disputes.