As individuals navigating the world, we all hold perceptions about climate change, what sustainability entails, and our place within it all. But what happens when another person enters your life with their own set of ideas about sustainability… and they don’t exactly align with yours?
A recent study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology evaluated 758 couples on their understanding of each other’s views about climate change, and the results were fascinating. It demonstrated the concept of “assumed similarity”—the belief that your partner holds views very similar to your own. In actuality, partners’ views differentiated much more than the participants expected.
The researchers say they found climate change beliefs and behaviors often differed between partners, and “people’s perceptions of their partner’s beliefs/behaviors are predicted by their own beliefs and behaviors, independently from the predictive effect of their partner’s actual beliefs and behaviors.”
So, what can we do with the knowledge that our partners may think differently than we do when it comes to climate change?
Understanding Your Partner’s Views
As two people in a committed relationship, your partner likely cares a lot about getting to know you the best they can—and finding passions you can share. Even if they weren’t previously engaged in topics related to sustainability, they may be open to learning from you.
Have discussions about your backgrounds, cultures, and educational experiences that led you to hold the beliefs you do today. Be willing to have an open mind and to listen and learn. Understand that you don’t have to fully agree on every minute detail, and instead try to meet each other where you’re at currently.
If it’s something you’re both interested in, make time together to read up and watch documentaries on different topics within sustainability. And share media that sticks out to you as a topic that you personally find important.
But keep in mind that it’s also important not to bombard your partner—the topic of climate change can get pretty heavy and stressful at times. Just take it slow, try to see things from their perspective, and take it all in baby steps.
Sharing Love Sustainably
Habits stick better when you implement them with someone who can hold you accountable and motivate you. As a dynamic duo, you can take on anything—a no-buy challenge, cooking new plant-based recipes, planting a garden, hosting community events, and even trying to DIY items before buying them new at the store. Bettering the planet is a lot less daunting with your best friend by your side.
Through discussion and time spent together, you can come to understand each other’s viewpoints and learn as a team. Nothing compares to productive, active listening and communication. Demonstrate both openness to learn and willingness to accept you will not always see eye to eye, and work on accepting the possibility that ideas and values may shift over time.
Look for areas you can naturally add sustainability to your relationship. Romance is often intertwined with consumption. Big elaborate steak dinners, jet-setting getaways, and showering your loved one with gifts to demonstrate your affection are just a few examples of societal expectations of romance. But all it takes is some small swaps to make things more planet-friendly.
First, when it comes to gifts, try to focus on experiences or items that can be used up. Horseback riding, a pottery class, a concert, or a farm-to-table cooking lesson are all fun activities you can bond over together. If your partner is already into sustainability, this could be a really touching gesture—to go the extra mile and implement details that are more eco-friendly. And if you do decide to buy an item, make sure it’s something they’ve wanted for a while that they’ll surely get good use out of.
When it comes to traveling together, consider staycations or a closer getaway. You’d be surprised about the truly hidden gems you can find within hours of your home. Explore your city, get involved, attend festivals, and visit museums. A day trip somewhere a couple hours away—like a blooming botanical garden or a sustainable restaurant—can make for a really special memory, too.
Lastly, something that could really mean a lot is finding out what causes matter most to your partner and volunteering time or resources with them. This could be volunteering at a local animal sanctuary that needs extra hands, or taking part in a community cleanup.
Different ideas will work better for different couples, but it’s a great way to show that you value what they’re passionate about and are ready to get involved, too. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find an idea or two that naturally incorporate sustainability into your relationship.
Hey there! Want to help us change the world every day through easy, achievable, eco-friendly tips and tricks? Sign up for the Brightly Spot and join our movement of over a million changemakers.