Sunday, July 10, 2011

Should couples quit together?

In a relationship where both are smokers, three things can happen:
1. Both really want to quit.
2. One wants to quit and the other does not.
3. One wants to quit and while the other really isn't ready to quit, but they go along with their mate.

For the best chance at success, you need to decide to quit for yourself regardless of the decision of your partner.  When Don and Susan quit together, Don was excited about being smoke-free but when Susan would come home from having lunch with friends and smelled like smoke, he questioned whether she really had quit. She hadn't, she just stopped smoking around her husband.

It's important to talk to your partner about what if one is successful and the other isn't or just isn't motivated to quit.  One common feature of everyone who relapses is that cigarettes are readily available and if you live with a smoker, a pack is always right there. A discussion might include how the smoker can still be supportive of the other's attempt to become smoke-free. What mutual boundaries can be established? As much as the quitter wants the other to join them in being smoke-free, it is a very individual choice and you can't force someone to be in a different step in the process than where they are.

Even when both want to quit, each may go about the process in a different way. Jim and Sandra weren't able to support each other because Jim wanted to talk about the quitting process all the time, while Sandra didn't want to think about smoking. Instead she wanted to read, knit and do her gardening to keep her mind off of cigarettes. They needed the exact opposite kind of support. It can be difficult also, if both partners are going through withdrawals at the same time--some couples decide to not talk to each other for the first few days because tempers can flare at innocent situations. Or the anger, irritation and frustration from withdrawals can cause a relapse for both instead. If one slips, it can be a signal to the other to slip too--it's a common thought that both have to quit together to be successful.

Sue decided to quit for herself and came to the cessation classes alone. After quitting, she would sit each evening with her husband Bill and watch TV, while he smoked. While being around Bill as he smoked was tempting, Sue was determined to stay smoke-free and did not say anything at all to him about his smoking. After six months, Bill decided if his wife could quit and not say anything, he could quit too. Sue came with Bill as a support person to the cessation classes. 

The most difficult situation is when one really wants to quit and the other doesn't at all. Sometimes quitting can feel like a betrayal because smoking is something that couples do together--"we go out to the patio and talk over the events of the day while smoking". When Fred got into a fight with his wife, she went out and bought him a carton of his favorite cigarettes. Fred saw this as an act of sabotage, while his wife saw this as a peace offering, something she had done in the past.

Marcia's husband decided at the last minute to not attend the stop smoking workshop and quit along with Marcia. She was OK with that but after she quit, he would blow smoke into her face. She realized that not only was he not supportive of her becoming smoke-free, he wasn't supportive in any area of her life.

There is no right answer, only what is best for each couple. The key ingredient is communication. Talk to each other while you're still smoking. Becoming smoke-free can change the dynamics of the relationship. How can you support each other regardless of the other's smoking status? If you've both smoked inside the house, will that continue or will there now be smoking areas? If the non-smoker has a weak moment, what can their partner do besides giving them a cigarette?


Colorblue said...

I linked your post to my blog. Good one, keep it up!

Colorblue said...

I linked your post to my blog. Good post keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I quit, he kind of quit (vaping)... He's making my life a living hell. I wish he didn't quit.

VJ Sleight, Queen of Quitting said...

Congratulations on becoming smoke-free--not easy when you have a partner that is still struggling. You should be very proud of yourself and give yourself a pat on the back!
You didn't mention how long "he" has "quit" for? It could be that he is going through extended nicotine withdrawal. For some smokers this can last several months. A professional Tobacco Treatment Specialist would be able to help him ease the physical aspects of quitting. Regardless of the reason, he shouldn't be taking it out on you - it could be that he is transferring his anger at "having" to quit onto you, instead of owning up that he doesn't want to quit but is feeling like he is forced to. Not sure which issue he is having a problem with but I would ask him why he is "making your life a living hell" -- spelling out exactly what behavior he is doing that is "making your life a living hell", he might not be aware of his actions. Good luck!