Ask the Expert: My partner’s smoking again and I hate it
Rather than fighting with your partner over his smoking, try to stand with him and fight against the smoking addiction. Photograph: Getty Images
Q I have been with my partner for eight years and we have a 12-month-old daughter together. The issue that really bothers me is that he started smoking again seven months ago even though he knows I hate it.
He didn’t tell me at first and was hiding it from me before I found out – I could smell it off his breath though he tried to disguise it with mints.
I am worried about his health as our baby’s father. My own father died early of lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Also, I find smoking quite repulsive and it has got to the point that I can’t bear to kiss him when he has had a cigarette.
When I met him first, he used to smoke though he gave it up once we started going out seriously together and I was impressed by this at the time. Now I feel really disappointed that he has started again and think he is being really selfish. Am I being reasonable and is there anything I can do or should I just accept it?
A Given the fact that smoking is by far the biggest preventable cause of death and as many as one in two smokers die of a smoking-related illness, your concerns about your partner’s health are completely justifiable. Your concerns are especially understandable given the personal loss of your father to a smoking-related illness.
Smoking and stress on relationships
When a partner or spouse starts back smoking, it can put a great deal of stress on the relationship especially when the other partner is against it. You might have thought that his smoking was behind you and are disappointed that he has started again, especially now that you have a baby together.
Often the thing that bothers the partner the most is the secrecy about it. Often the person initially hides the fact that they have started back or under-reports the amount they are smoking and this can feel like a breach of trust in the relationship.
Equally, you may have felt that his decision to give up in the past was a sign of commitment to you and your relationship, and you may perceive that his decision to start again somehow undermines this.
Understanding the addiction of smoking
It helps if you do not take his smoking personally and see the addiction that usually underpins it.
Most smokers are addicted to smoking with over 50 per cent at any one time wishing they could quit and over 80 per cent regretting they ever started in the first place. Just like with all addictions, the addicted smoker fears that he can’t give up and feels that he is dependent on the cigarettes.
In addition, just like other addictions, smoking is often used as a means (however unhelpful) of coping with stress. It is quite likely that your partner was feeling the stresses of being a new parent (or perhaps work) and this might have triggered his return to his old addiction.
It is also quite likely that he hid it from you initially because he was embarrassed and because he hoped that he could nip his new habit in the bud.
Most smokers who start back do this gradually with one or two cigarettes hoping they can limit their habit, before their behaviour escalates and the addiction takes over.
Helping your partner quit
There is a lot you can do to help your partner quit. Firstly, try to be supportive and not judgmental of his actions. Most people with addictions already beat themselves up for their “weakness” at not being able to control their habit.
Rather than seeing his actions solely as selfish, try to understand the addictive nature of cigarettes and the stresses and other triggers that got him back to smoking. Your reaching out and being understanding can help motivate him to try again to quit.
Making a decision to quit
It is important that your partner makes his own decision to quit smoking. While you can and should express your views and concerns, he has to weigh these up and make his own decision.
From the details of your email, it does sound like he wants to quit but may feel unable to do this. Make sure to encourage his desire to quit and support him in this decision.
Rather than fighting with your partner over his smoking, try to stand with him and fight against the smoking addiction.
Getting ready to quit
Once your partner has agreed that he wants to quit, support him in getting ready to do this.
Help him come up with a “quitting plan” that might include identifying strategies for dealing with the addictive urges (such as mindfulness or relaxation) and highlighting supports and alternative outlets (such as exercise, or reading and so on).
Discuss with him in detail how he overcame the addiction the last time. What strategies did he employ? What specifically worked for him? Some people find getting professional support either individually or in a group can be very helpful (see resources below). Encourage him to reach out and make contact.
Supporting him quitting
Once he does quit, your support and encouragement can make a difference in keeping him going and helping him stay off the cigarettes. Highlight progress with him on a daily basis and encourage him in his alternative choices.
Remind him of all the money he is saving and plan rewards that you can enjoy together.
Fortunately, there are lots of great resources available to help people give up smoking such as the National Smokers’ Quitline, quit.ie, 1850-201203 which can provide support on the phone (either to your partner or to you) and/or recommend local free services and groups your partner can avail of.
Dr John Sharry is a social worker and director of the Parents Plus Charity. For a list of books and courses, see solutiontalk.ie