Smoking Can Harm Marital Health, Too
When Wendy and her husband were married five years ago, they agreed that he would quit smoking by the time their first baby arrived. Today they have two daughters, and he still smokes.
“He’s tried to quit a few times,” said Wendy, 31, who lives in Anaheim and who asked that her last name not be used. “The longest he lasted was three weeks. Now he’s confined to smoking in one room of the house.”
For Wendy, her husband’s smoking greatly affects their relationship.
“His smoking is more than a bad habit; it intrudes on many areas of our life,” she said. “From a health perspective, the (secondhand) smoke is bad for the entire family. Because he smokes in another room, he also spends time away from us, and I resent that. I sometimes feel like smoking is more important than his family.”
Like many nonsmokers, Wendy is happy about the recently enacted California law that prohibits smoking in most enclosed workplaces, including restaurants. It will mean she and her husband no longer have to debate over which section to sit in when they dine out.
When one partner smokes and the other doesn’t, the relationship may be destroyed, said Donna Gordon, who runs the American Lung Assn.'s Freedom From Smoking classes at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, in Newport Beach.
“In most cases, nonsmokers try to be tolerant, but the smoking ends up bothering them,” she said. “Then they may start nagging, particularly if they have never been addicted to cigarettes and don’t understand how difficult it is to quit.”
Statistics show how hard it is to quit. Although 1.3 million Americans finally stop smoking each year, this total represents fewer than 10% of those who try to quit, according to the American Lung Assn. While almost 70% of ex-smokers manage to quit after only one or two tries, 22% make three to five attempts and 9% take a stab at it six or more times before succeeding.
When smokers can’t quit, it affects relationships in many ways. Not only do nonsmokers find the odor of cigarettes offensive, but they also feel as if their loved one considers smoking more important than the relationship and good health, said Jean Siegel, a licensed marriage, family, child counselor with offices in Dana Point and Laguna Beach. She regularly provides hypnotherapy to people who want to quit smoking.
“Smoking can create turmoil and distance in a relationship, especially if the smoker steps outside or into another room to smoke,” said Siegel. “The nonsmoker may also think that the smoker can’t control himself or herself.”
Many of Siegel’s clients come in saying they want to quit smoking because a loved one is unhappy with their smoking. But before proceeding, she makes sure they actually want to quit.
“It doesn’t matter how much the spouse hates it; they have to be motivated to quit for themselves,” said Siegel.
Wendy’s husband, Chad, agrees:
“It doesn’t really matter what the other person says to you; it’s such a physical addiction--it’s like giving up food. I’ve tried to quit many times, but I just haven’t been able to.”
The first time Chad tried to quit since knowing Wendy, she bought him cigarettes on the fourth day.
“I was so grumpy I wasn’t even me,” said Chad, a 36-year-old carpenter who has smoked for 20 years. “She handed me the cigarettes and told me to stop being an idiot.”
The longest he has gone without smoking was three weeks, after being hospitalized for a lung problem.
“I know when I started again that time she was really disappointed,” he said. “I get disgusted with myself because I can’t quit. She has every right in the world to dislike smoking.”
When both partners smoke and one quits, the dynamics of the relationship change, said Siegel.
“Two people often smoke together, which means they no longer share this activity,” she said. “Instead, one person will often move to another room or outdoors.”
John and Jean Woffington of Mission Viejo know how it is when one partner quits and the other continues. For more than 30 years the Woffingtons, both 75, smoked together until John quit for good in 1984.
“When he quit, John said he didn’t want me around him when I smoked, so I started going outside or into the garage,” Jean said. “We have a TV in the garage, so I’d just sit out there and smoke.”
For John, it would have been a lot more difficult to stop smoking if Jean had continued smoking in the house.
“I didn’t realize how irritating it was to have someone smoking around you until I quit smoking myself,” he said. “It made it a lot easier to quit when she began smoking in the garage and outside.”
Five years ago, Jean decided to join her husband and become smoke-free. John said he was thrilled to see her quit.
“I always knew she had to do it on her own, but I was very happy for her health’s sake when she decided to quit,” he said.
In some cases, power struggles occur between smokers and nonsmokers.
“It’s common for a nonsmoker to nag the other person about quitting,” said Siegel. “Although the nonsmoker may mean well, all the nagging and pressure just pushes the smoker into smoking more. It’s when a person backs off and leaves a smoker alone that he or she sometimes tries to quit.”
For 16 years, Dorothy Glascock was harangued by her husband--now her ex--and children about smoking, but none of the urging did any good.
“My ex-husband would say, ‘If you really love me, you’d quit,’ and then he’d start talking about the health problems. When the children got older, they also lectured me. It got to the point where I would smoke in the bedroom, but everyone complained that it was going through the heating and air-conditioning ducts, so I had to close up the vents and stuff a towel under the door,” said Glascock, 56, an insurance broker in Santa Ana.
In recent years her grandchildren have also confronted her.
“They will come in with their hands on their hips telling me not to smoke,” she said. “Do you know what it’s like to be lectured by a 3-year-old?”
Rather than discouraging her, Glascock said the years of nagging have caused her to smoke more.
It wasn’t until a year ago, when she began dating a man she plans to marry, that she heard the magic words that would make her consider not smoking.
“He smoked for years until he had heart surgery and quit,” she said. “He told me, ‘I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. It would break my heart if I lost you.’ That was the first time someone had put it that way, and I started thinking about quitting immediately.”
Today Glascock never smokes around her fiance and smokes only a few cigarettes at night. She plans on quitting altogether when she gets married in July.
Karen, who also asked that her name not be used, also knows about power struggles when it comes to smoking. The 34-year-old South County office worker is constantly warring with her husband, a nonsmoker.
“The last three months or so have gotten really bad around my house,” she said. “Just the other night he said he’d like to smell the room instead of a chimney.”
Karen’s husband asked her to smoke outside, which she sometimes does.
“When I decide to not go outside, he’ll open the window and turn on the fan, and lately it hasn’t been that warm,” she said.
They got into an argument recently when she arrived home one day and found him and his brother talking in the living room. His brother had just finished a cigarette, so she assumed it was OK to light up. It wasn’t. Her husband immediately chased her out of the room.
“I asked him why I have to go outside and smoke when other people don’t, and it’s my house,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind going outside if other people had to, but in this case I feel like I’m not getting any respect.”
* For more information regarding smoking, or to request the booklet “How to Help a Friend Quit Smoking,” call or write the Orange County American Lung Assn. office at 1570 E. 17th St. Santa Ana, CA 92701, (714) 835-5864.