10 Tips for Going Green with a Reluctant Spouse

"Why can't he care about the environment as much as I do?"

"How did you get your husband to go along with cloth diapers?"
"How did you get your spouse interested in switching to organic food?"
"Is your husband into going green too?"

These are questions I get on my blog and from friends in real life.  In the beginning, I think it is safe to say that my husband was not as enthusiastic about going green as I was.  Several years later, he is nearly as gung-ho as I am.  I asked my husband for some ideas that might help turn a skeptical or reluctant spouse into a green-enthusiast.  Here is a list of ideas we came up with.

10 Tips for Going Green with a Reluctant Spouse

1. Go green gradually.  This is much easier for the reluctant spouse to stomach .  Try not to spring a new eco-challenge until the last one is paid for or has become easier.

2. Be persistent (a.k.a. stubborn).  Let your spouse know that while you are willing to be patient, this a priority for you.  Let it sink in that this is not a phase you are passing through.

3. Do the heavy lifting.   The goal here is to make the green change easy-peasy until your spouse has bought into the new way of doing things.  This tip is more doable if you already do a good portion of the cleaning, cooking and child care.  Take cloth diapers as an example.  My husband was not super enthusiastic about this change initially, so I made sure the transition was pretty easy on him.  My husband continued to change diapers, but I did all of the washing, and if he wanted to use disposables occasionally, I tried not to make a big stink about it.  Many months later, cloth diapering was just another domestic chore, and my husband was helping out wherever he could when home.  Last time we went on a trip and used disposables full time, my husband said he was happy to get back to cloth diapers when we returned home!  He even sometimes empties the pail of dirty diapers into the washer (the most difficult part of the cloth diapering routine) for me. 

4. Make sacrifices.  I use almost all my discretionary spending on green things.  I spend very little on typical "female" categories: clothes, shoes, purses, beauty products.  I have been willing to cut my spending in most categories so that we can afford some of the costly green changes.  Put your money where your mouth is.

5. Keep finances in mind.  I try to balance costly green changes with money-saving green changes.  As we have spent more on groceries, we have almost entirely stopped eating out and I have begun to make more things from scratch.  I sold lots of junk on Craig's List to help pay for a natural bed for our kids.  So even though some green changes cost more money (eating organic food, for example), I don't think our spending has increased dramatically. You might want to begin your green efforts with just the free or money-saving changes.  My husband still likes to think about how much we save every month by using cloth diapers.

6. Lead by example.  I changed all of my and the kids' personal products before ever suggesting alternative products to my husband.  I gave up my processed foods before asking him to think about giving up his. 

7. Don't push too hard.  If your spouse really isn't willing to go along with a change at this point, back off and try again later.  I am still (3+ years into this journey) searching for a natural deodorant that is up to my husband's standards.  Think small and steady.  Your spouse needs to see that going green is doable and affordable.

8. Compromise.  Like many people, my husband was pretty attached to a particular laundry detergent, and wanted his clothes to smell "clean" when they came out of the wash.  I have always preferred no synthetic fragrance.  When I wanted to switch to an eco-friendly laundry detergent, I took my husband to the store with me and let him pick one that smelled good to him.  (P.S. Eventually he was fine with no strong fragrance at all -- see  number 1).  Sometimes my husband balks at how much I want to spend on something (a natural bed for our kids, for example).  We try to come up with a middle ground that works for both of us. 

9. Be accommodating.  Since I have a lot of green wishes, I try to abide by my husband's wishes in other areas.  For example, I try to take care of our cars the way my husband wants me to. When it was time to say goodbye to our old TV, I went along with the big (Energy Star) TV that my husband wanted.

10. Provide convincing information.  I put this one last, but this was one of my most effective weapons.  Since I have been serious about going green, I have fed my husband a steady diet of information about the hazards of chemicals and the benefits of more natural and earth-friendly practices. After several articles about ground beef, for example, my husband agreed that our family should not eat ground beef anymore (I already wasn't eating it).  My husband also has become convinced that it's worth spending more on food to have to spend less on health.  I recommend the documentary Food, Inc. as a very accessible way to introduce your spouse to the disfunctionality of our food system.  Try to be convincing without being overbearing.

Any other suggestions?

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  1. Great list! Fortunately, my husband has been pretty supportive of our green changes--especially those that relate to animal cruelty. We don't have kids yet and haven't talked about cloth diapers, so I wonder how he will react to that when the time comes. One step at a time!

  2. I love this post Betsy! Now that we have cloth diapering down, I need to make a decision on the next step toward green living. Thanks for providing such great info!!

  3. I love your TV example! I've been there. No, wait, I live there!

  4. I agree with all of these. You don't want to break the bank or ruin your marriage in an attempt to go green :) That's why I love Going Green Gradually!

  5. I completely love your blog, because I am totally interested in going greener, but I am SUCH a novice! Seriously, I'd be pretty clueless without you! haha

    Question for you - Chase is on the brink of crawling, so I'd like to get our main-living-area carpets cleaned in the next week or two. Any "green" tips or suggestions as I start my research??

  6. Great tips, Betsy! I wouldn't say that my husband is reluctantly green, but he's not as into it as I am. So the only other thing I might add to the list is to keep your green progress separate from his. What I mean is, I think of my own green habits as just that--my own.

    I stumbled upon a raw food blog once. The blogger was totally into raw vegan food, but she described a traditional Thanksgiving dinner she helped prepare for her husband. She explained that the vegan raw food thing wasn't "a part of his journey."

    I don't know if that sounds too individualistic or anti-family for some people, but I guess I related to that sentiment. Perhaps this falls under your "be accommodating" tip.

  7. Rebecca, good points. I really only push green things on my husband if I feel they really impact my kids. For example, he naps sometimes with our kids and when I could smell the synthetic fragrance from his deodorant on them I told him I really wanted to try to get a different kind for him -- we're still working on that one. I agree that you don't want to thrust your priorities on someone else. I do now expect my husband to be more thoughtful about his choices, even if he doesn't always agree with me. I aim to be persuasive, but respectful of other views.

  8. Erica, I will post about carpet cleaners soon after doing a bit of research. Thanks for the question!

  9. Re: deodorant--have you tried Tom's of Maine? We use that and like it fine, though I know it doesn't work at all for others. I think Trader Joe's makes a natural kind, too.

    Re: carpet cleaning--I have no carpet, but I believe you can get your carpets professionally steam cleaned. You can also rent the Rug Doctors from the grocery store and then use plain water to do it yourself. I look forward to your research on this, Betsy, since really I know nothing about it!


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