Hey Elderly Aunt, how do I urge my partner to recycle?

Let me preface my question by saying my partner is wonderful in so many ways … but the guy will not recycle. I didn’t realize it was so bad until the pandemic, which has allowed us to be home together much more. He’ll finish off the orange juice, and the plastic container goes in the trash. Coke can — trash. Amazon box — trash. I’ve told him how important recycling is to me, and I’m the one who takes it to the city’s recycling place. All he has to do is toss them into the recycling bin, but he says it fills up too fast and just smells and that the stuff “probably” ends up in a landfill anyway. I refuse to pick through the trash behind him. Any advice for how I can do this little thing to help the environment without turning it into a big fight? Thank you. 

Ah yes! What to do when someone you live with is being nonsensically and irrationally stubborn? 

Alas, dear reader, it is the Elderly Aunt’s opinion that you have already done everything you can reasonably do to persuade your partner to change his environmentally irresponsible ways by explaining the importance of recycling both to you and the planet.

However, assuming that your partner is not a climate change denier, it strikes the Elderly Aunt  there might be some deeper struggle going on in your relationship than just a disagreement over trash management. Why? Because, frankly, she thinks your partner doth protest too much about doing something requiring zero effort from him that would be both good for the planet and his partner’s peace of mind. 

In a word, dear reader, the Elderly Aunt thinks your partner is being gratuitously stubborn. Which immediately begs the question, why?

Speaking from her own varied experiences with partners and husbands, the Elderly Aunt ventures to suggest that the underlying issue triggering the Big Recycling Standoff might possibly be that biggest of all relationship bugaboos: control. 

You describe your partner as “wonderful in so many ways.” Is it possible that part of his wonderfulness to you is that he’s allowed you to organize your shared existence? If so, it is the Elderly Aunt’s experience that people who tend toward passivity in relationships (your partner?) will suddenly dig their heels in on some fairly arbitrary point just to assert their control over something! Could that be what’s triggering your partner’s rather bizarre refusal to recycle?

And please, dear reader, do not construe the Elderly Aunt’s asking the above questions as her attempt to blame you for your partner’s stubbornness. She is very clear that his stubbornness is his choice.  She is simply asking you to be curious about why he’s choosing such a nonsensical issue to be stubborn about. If there is an underlying issue going on between the two of you, the Big Recycling Standoff could be a symptom of that issue, rather than the issue itself.

Successful relationships, in the Elderly Aunt’s experience, groove along on each partner’s continued willingness not just to know each other better, but to know themselves better as well. 


The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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