During the past two years I’ve been privileged to facilitate a number of workshops and work individually with hundreds of people here in the U.S. and some from other places. As I hear their stories of awakening to the convergence of crises in which we live and will be living for many years, the most challenging and sometimes painful issue for people is not how to learn to grow gardens, store food, or re-skill for the future, but rather a very personal one regarding communicating with their loved ones about the future they envision.
I incessantly receive emails and requests for coaching in which individuals report painful conflicts with a partner, a child, or another loved one who is not open to talking or hearing about what James Howard Kunstler names “The Long Emergency.” These individuals are preparing for the collapse of industrial civilization, but their family member(s) refuses to discuss the issue, and as a result, tensions in these relationships become increasingly difficult to sustain or even tolerate.
As a result of the pervasiveness of this dilemma, I have decided to create a workshop specifically designed to help partners and family members address it with consciousness, clarity, and compassion. The intention is not to make anyone “right” or “wrong,” but rather, to enhance meaningful communication and intimacy. The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue said that, “Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you,” and I believe that everything that happens to partners or family members has the potential to deepen those relationships.
I happen to believe that conflict in all relationships is healthy, and I am wary of any which do not have some rough edges of disagreement or even worse, in which people boast that “we never fight.” It is through conflict that people find their own identity and autonomy in relationships, and without conflict, people may live out the charade of closeness, but intimacy profoundly eludes them.
A son or daughter may discover that his/her parents are preparing for the Long Emergency, but he/she is not in agreement. This predicament presents one set of challenges whereas another situation in which one spouse or partner is preparing, but the other is not, confronts the couple, and perhaps an entire family, with a very different kind of challenge. One is born into a family without choice, but one chooses a romantic partner consciously and intentionally. Generally when choosing a partner, one is drawn to a person whose future goals and life purpose resonate with one’s own. Two people often merge their lives because purpose and goals are compatible or complementary. But what happens when as a result of learning about the Long Emergency, one partner becomes focused on preparation while the other partner desires only to engage in meaningful work, maintain a nurturing and harmonious home, and peacefully grow old with their significant other?
My experience without exception is that when one partner is committed to preparation and the other is not, it is absolutely counter-productive for the committed partner to present ever more “rational”, “logical,” evidence for why his/her partner should listen up and get serious about the Long Emergency. Instead, it is crucial to address the emotional realities of the conflict. The legacy of the Enlightenment has inculcated in us the belief that if people just see the evidence, they will respond accordingly.
However, when we enter the domain of evidence for the collapse of industrial civilization, we are dealing with nothing less than emotional, social, and spiritual trauma.
If someone invites you to join them in visiting the severe combat injury unit of a veteran’s hospital or join them in serving hot meals to homeless people, but the trauma of engaging with the population you are likely to come in contact with feels overwhelming, no amount of books, articles, or documentaries will minimize the sense of feeling overwhelmed because engaging in these situations is not strictly, or perhaps even minimally, logical.
For countless reasons, some very intelligent and knowledgeable people cannot allow themselves to accept the reality of the Long Emergency. It feels too traumatic and therefore, overwhelming. This needs to be respected, not pathologized. Every human being has limitations about where she or he can go both internally and externally.
Not long ago, one woman who vigorously resisted my use of “the collapse of industrial civilization” told me the story of being in grade school in the 1950s and learning about nuclear war. Pamphlets were distributed to the class about nuclear radiation, and a movie depicting its horrors was shown. She was terrified by this and made a life-altering decision in the throes of the trauma in which she essentially told herself: I will never allow myself to become that scared again.
There is nothing “wrong” with this decision, but decisions made in childhood based on traumatic experiences need to be updated from time to time, otherwise, they do not serve us well and may impede our emotional development. Living out a decision made at 10 may not be appropriate at the age of 55.
So one of the starting points in a workshop addressing conflicts in a relationship is to explore the history of how the conflict arose in the relationship. Exploring this history isn’t about making anyone wrong or right, but getting clarity on how the people in conflict arrived where they are now.
It may also be useful to notice other issues in the relationship that play into this one. Does this issue in some way mirror another issue between the two of you? One partner or family member may have in the past felt that that the other is not emotionally available. Is the “new” Long Emergency issue somehow mirroring the older issue? One partner may feel intellectually inferior to the other, even if he/she is not, and suddenly hearing all the “facts” about a daunting future may open an old wound, even if the person presenting the facts has no intention of doing so. In any event, as a result of this conflict, both loved ones invariably feel alone with their emotions and possibly unseen and unheard.
What is more, a conflict in a relationship regarding the Long Emergency is not the same as a conflict over finances, infidelity, addictions, or a health crisis. It may be far more momentous than other conflicts. While other conflicts may be relevant, coming to a profound awareness of the Long Emergency is likely to be life-altering on a number of levels. Similar to, yet different from other issues, awareness and a commitment to preparation may impact where people decide to live, what kind of work they want or need to be doing, how they feel about their possessions, and how they perceive their life purpose going forward. A couple may have joined their lives because their life purposes were completely synchronous, but if one person is preparing for a dramatic upheaval in our world, and the other person is not, the life purposes of the two individuals may very quickly diverge.
Most importantly, a safe place for feeling, writing, and talking about the emotions involved in the conflict is absolutely necessary, and my intention is to provide this safe space in my workshops. I strongly encourage partners or family members experiencing conflicts around the Long Emergency to attend. Regardless of the choices family members may make in the future about their commitment to preparation, this workshop is an opportunity to be fully present with your loved one—to hear, feel, see, and respond to him or her from your heart, with honesty and compassion. It will also provide the opportunity to cognitively consider options for managing or even resolving the conflict.
For further information on “Relationships And The Long Emergency” workshops, [hkLink type=”slug” value=”contact-carolyn”]contact Carolyn[/hkLink]. Carolyn is also available for individual coaching on any issues related to the Long Emergency.
It’s interesting to read this in light of my relationship of 5 years that recently ended. The partnership between my ex-partner and I was too much, and then he started to get involved in the local real estate industry. To be sure, Saratoga County is perhaps one of the few areas around where there is any hope of income in that field, but still… God bless him.
Interestingly I was talking about your website and the hope your words offer me, when he said “Well, go off and live in a cave if that’s how you feel.” I don’t know how to talk about these topics evidently, and I guess I had a faulty takeaway from your words as I was trying to speak my truth.
I hardly ever spoke my truth after that, and would try to find “inoffensive” ways to even discuss Transition, which I’m now a part of.
In any case, I’m eager to see your new book come out. I plan on getting it once it’s available.
Many blessings to you in the New Year
Indeed these issues seem to be a game-changer in many relationships. Thanks for your comments.
several times i have mentioned in the course of conversation that my partner and me, “we never fight.” and in so doing, as far as i can tell, it is received as neither boastful nor untrustworthy; indeed, nor was said mentioning a result of some generalized dysfunction or absence of conflict but the result of an ongoing effort to communicate our thoughts and feelings in an atmosphere cultivated with love and trust.
my partner is amazing. not having delved, herself, into the state of industrial civilization, she trusts my judgment and when (not if! 😉 we have sold our apartment we will rent month-to-month until we have found a used trailer and someone in our urban neighborhood with an over-sized lot on which we can go off-grid while using a cartridge toilet and a french drain. while it’s not quite the cave richard seeks it’ll have to do. 😛
convincing my family is another matter!
thanks for the post.
the isolation of the individual in society has to be faced up to.
the incremental creep of breakdown is more debilitating than sudden shock and need to change for those pyschologically locked into a mindset.
equal time for all religions or it’s lackis one of the main sources of conflict and our beliefs have to be challenged constantly.
The price of liberty in/eternal vigilance.
the urge to conform and be proved right by group assent is the human failing that needs to be identified.
the evolutionary advantage of the fracturing of family life is that more options are created.
leave it to beaver suburban survivalist Ateam is recipe for worse civil disorder scenarios driven by fear rather than co operation.
Nobody with a brain should be complacent; you will never have enough preparation.Education starts and ends with you.
walk the talk and get ready to boogy.
This article really resonated with me, as it is exactly the scenario that I find myself in. I’ve been married for 10.5 years. When we first got married , my wife and I were on the same page regarding a fairly conventional suburbanite life plan. I became interested in progressive/radical politics in 2003, and “woke up” to societal collapse in 2005. My approach to finances, occupational desires, and goals for myself and my family all changed rather dramatically. While it didn’t happen overnight, I know that it seemed very sudden to my wife. These issues were compounded by my simultaneous questioning (and ultimately rejection) of orthodox Christianity.
My wife will angrily say that I’m not the same person that I was when we got married…and she’s right. I have changed quite a bit, I feel for the better. When I look back at myself at age 20, I can’t help but think what a short-sighted, clueless, brainwashed, sheep I was; and that’s who she wishes I still was. We paper over things for the most part, but deep down I think we both understand that for right now, in order for one of us to live the way we’d really like, the other one is going to have to live a life they more or less hate.
I know that it doesn’t help for one party to try to prove that he or she is “right”, but how can you simply disregard legitimate concerns? The fact of the matter is that her ambivalence towards debt puts our financial security at risk given the highly unstable nature of the dominant economic and monetary systems, and hamstrings our ability to take prudent steps to protect ourself. Her non-interest in local, natural food sources and refusal to alter various dietary predilections are harmful not only to her health, but also that our children. Her refusal to even investigate issues related to collapse (along with 31 years of mainstream social conditioning) lead her to desire a conventional, suburbanite lifestyle that is difficult to maintain now – and recipe for disaster down the road. But I’m the asshole, because I’m the one who changed (ie.grew up).
Sorry to unload all of this on you. This is one of the first articles I read that seemed to speak directly to what I’m going through. I love my wife and kids dearly, but I feel like we’re drifting farther and farther apart; and the only thing that seems like it will make things better is complete compromise and sellout on my part. I wish she could she could see what I see for just a second. Thanks for all the work you’re doing. Keep it up.
– Mike L
Please consider some coaching with me on this issue. It’s what I do, and you are not the only spouse/partner with these issues. There are many of you out there, and what I’m learning is that it’s a lonely and burdensome road. If you would like more information, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The wheels in my head are turning, Carolyn — with many of us in the situation of relationships falling apart due to differing affinities for the Long Emergency, maybe there’s an opportunity here for us to connect & start new relationships on the same page? Dating for Doomers? Passion for Peak Oil/Preparedness?
I mention this only half in jest… 🙂
looking forward to seeing the new book-
I found your blog web site on google and test just a few of your early posts. Continue to maintain up the excellent operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading extra from you in a while!…
My experience echoes with what you say Carolyn, and with Mike (though not quite so serious I think) and others I know (reading between the lines). You are spot on about the futileness of getting more facts, etc… My wife says that she does feel overwhelmed and is not ready to facts dark facts about the future, feeling that if she does all civilization will collapse and we better just all get guns (a story that needs changing). We both worry for our young childrens future too and this makes it more intense.
I’m coming to understand that compromise and a gentler nudging approach is necessary. I can’t save the World on my own. Interestingly when we discuss environmental issues with friends my wife and I find we more in tune in our views than when discussing them between us. At times I feel very trapped, I feel guilty not being to live as green a life as I want/should and frustrated about the resistance to change from my wife.
But its getting better, your words help.
I’m very fortunate that my wife and our two adult children are all on board with the Long Emergency. It’s just our extended family that refuses to get it.
But in truth, they can’t get it as their lives are wrapped up in a fundamentalist religion that is known for misogyny, homophobia and racism.
So facing hard truths would be their undoing.
Once again, I don’t blame them, and am happy that they treat the four of us kindly.
No one at one with themselves can concieve of conflict.
Conflict is the result of self-deception and self-deception is dishonesty.
Felix Frankfurter said it well, “There are issues about which people of reasonable goodwill disagree.”
That’s not conflict, it’s agreeing to disagree in my opinion. If one has to find thier identity via conflict they will end up alone. It’dangerous being right, especially when one is right.
Good book, “What Wrong with being Absolutely Right?
Overland Park Ks.
Sorry, conflict is NOT the result of self-deception and dishonesty. I’m talking about conflict communicated in a caring, non-violent manner without attempting to have power over the other.
That kind of conflict, not expressed, will not vanish, but will show up later as resentment, jealously, passive-aggressive behavior, and unconscious sabotage.
Indigenous people are very comfortable with non-violent conflict and often say that “Violence is the ABSENCE of conflict.” The inhabitants of industrial civilization do not know how to have conflict and instead, feign smiley-faced niceness.
As industrial civilization collapses, it will be more important than ever in human history to develop the skill of navigating conflict non-violently. If we do not, we are not likely to survive.
In response specifically to Mike’s post, I want you to know that you are NOT the only person going through a tough situation with the family. When I read your post, it almost exactly mirrored my situation at home.
I only really became aware of the approaching critical mass about two years ago, but since then I’ve read every book I could get my hands on, whether it dealt with global warming, peak oil, food shortages, government deceipt, or whatever. I attempted to pass all that important information along… because it’s important. My changing attitude toward the world has met with fierce opposition, often resulting in being told not to tell her or the kids anything else. She says it’s “depressing” and I’m scaring them. Her attitude toward money seems to have gotten worse and she won’t help prepare the children, even by beginning to modify their diets to make them healthier, which is more important now than ever. So here we are, further in debt with fatter kids, and while we stuggle to come to an understanding, the time to truly prepare is slipping away. How do you buy supplies when it’s spent on junk food and video games?
I think, as was mentioned in another post, that these are likely issues that were there all along, but the quality of our lives allowed a degree of avoidence. Also, her reaction seems to be a kneejerk reaction away from having to face the inevitable, as though she’s clinging to contemporary trappings as a buffer against a coming reality. The denial is painful to watch.
Anyway, I was relieved to read your post (as well as the others) and it made me feel better about holding fast to my new perspective. This truly has been a game changer. The question is whether my wife will be willing to play the new game.
Best to all!
Hello Carolyn. It’s good to hear you talk about conflict as not only inevitable, but potentially creative. One partner of mine, though very clever in many ways, tried to avoid conflict at all costs and once said he thought I generated conflict because, “You get off on it!” I have often been accused of ‘loving’ conflict and I eventually realised that it is true! I don’t love it in the sense of strong liking, but rather do my best to ‘love’ it, by accepting it without judgement, holding all the material as safely as possible while giving it all the attention it needs.
It seems to me that it really helps to address the fear inside the conflict that we are controlled by deep inside us. We were usually socialised and trained by fear and favour, reward and punishment as we were growing up and then became our own and each other’s controllers as adults. In my work as a community making facilitator and a women’s ‘freedom with responsibility’ teacher, I find that mining for buried fear also yields gold. A short, sharp 20 minute communal blast of whinging and complaining also seems to open up rich seams of optimism and enthusiasm for positive action.
It does seem to me that the process of investigating conflict, with all its anger and grief and so-called negative energies, contains great tools for unlocking limiting beliefs and releasing creativity.
Good to see you and hear you Carolyn
With love and best wishes from Morgan
Wow! All comments come from husbands and none from wives feeling the same…
I became aware of what we call “Peak Oil” last January (2012) and have been reading every book, blog and watching videos and movies. I made many changes by myself (very small changes, but I work full-time, have two children, study for a bachelor, volunteer, have a huge debt, no savings, just a few acquaintances and live in a suburban townhouse – on the top of all that, I’m an immigrant).
For a short period of time (just 5 months) I made a lot: I decided to leave my studies unfinished as it will take time and more debt and there is no guarantee that this bachelor will help me to get a job when this one is over (I am on a renewable contract that may end any August, being August 2014 the last after which there will be no renewal); I also started a de-cluttering process and got rid of two TVs and “stuff” nobody needed (still working on the rest). I also started compost and a vegetable garden (in pots, as they don’t allow me to grow vegetables on my own small townhouse yard, obviously chicken and goats are not an option either, but I do what I can). I started paying our huge debt aggressively; my only “allowance” is to continue buying books (collapse, peak oil, gardening and preparedness related). I also bought a bike and have started very slowly here (I have never liked cars, I think they are dangerous and use too much space and energy, I have always used public transportation. However, we do have a minivan that my husband drives and won’t give up, except for a smaller/energy efficient car)
My husband is a nice person, very “intellectual” and reads a lot: from news to books and specialized magazines, mostly literature and history. He is not a handyman and doesn’t like to be in charge of the “practical” stuff. My perception is that although he understand the concepts, he doesn’t get the “emotional” part of it, nor the urge to make changes to our lifestyle. He has been supportive with all my recent changes, but he is not on board with seriously planning to move to a more resilient place, where we can grow our onw food and be more in charge of our lives; he thinks the car is a necessity and won’t give it up, and he is very reluctant to give up cable (we have reduced it to the bare minimum and I don’t watch TV since last December, but he likes to watch some PBS and Knowledge programs)
I do feel frustrated and alone when I send him an article to read and he doesn’t even notice, giving priority to any other thing. I also feel frustrated when he says I’m going nuts and probably exaggerating all this. He says collapses had happen in the past and are happening all the time in other countries (which is true and I agree, but that doesn’t make “this” collapse less important and “this” is actually deeper and will reach a wider audience). He also says that preparing doesn’t make any sense, as if anything really big happens, there will be no way to “survive” if we have a vegetable garden and stock food and our neighbours don’t (which is also true, but again, that shouldn’t stop us from creating what we can and helping others to become more resilient as well).
I think the key here is that he is aware in another level, and sees things in perspective. He might think that if all this will happen, better to enjoy life while we can. I have another approach: I still enjoy life (I love my veggie garden, and volunteering), but want to make sure we are somewhat prepared.
The “conflict” puts a strain in the relationship. It would be much more fun to get rid of the car and TV together as a family, start showing that we walk the talk to our children, and saving money to move to a well planned place where, if the collapse doesn’t touch us directly, we would still thrive and enjoy a less stressful and more independent lifestyle.
In my coaching practice, I have so far encountered many more men who are on board whose wives or female partners aren’t. No gender generalizations seem to apply to this one.
I am heartened to see that others are experiencing similar things. I have always felt that I would see some transformational shift in my lifetime, but was not totally aware of the impending collapse until 2010 or so, when I began to really look at the climate science. My family and friends don’t want to face it, say I am depressing and depressed – but I feel more aware than ever, and would find great meaning in preparing / helping others prepare.
I find little meaning in my vocation as it stands. I am finding it unbearable to work at all anymore; as what I feel is necessary right now is to focus all of my efforts on the changes that need to be made for myself and my family. If they were on board with me, we could pull our resources and create a different life. Instead they are brainwashed, dim. I am not trying to judge but I can’t look at most people the same way anymore. Unless people are acutely aware of what is happening (virtually no one I associate with), I find it difficult to relate.
Thank you for what you do, Carolyn.