Three ways to stay married to someone who’s quitting smoking.
Jeff quit smoking on his birthday, which was 1 month, 15 days, 23 hours and 10 minutes ago. He left us a letter on the school table that morning; it was his gift for himself and to us.
This is not the first time in our marriage he has quit smoking, but from my standpoint it appears to be the most difficult. According to the American Cancer Society, nicotine is as addictive as heroin or cocaine so, it makes sense that withdrawal may be more mental than physical – extending tobacco cravings that last for months.
There are plenty of do’s and don’t's for friends and family who want to help a smoker quit. This post is specifically for wives of men who decided to quit smoking on their own (read: without interference or nagging from their spouse) because that makes all the difference. While Jeff is the one struggling against the addiction, I am in the trenches with him, and when the smoke clears, I plan to come out with my marriage intact.
So, how does one stay married to someone who’s quitting smoking? Here’s how:
1. Realize his anger is not your anger.
Smoking was a large part of Jeff’s daily ritual, from morning till the evening hours which he often spent reading and smoking on the back porch. Cravings are hard enough, but quitting smoking means developing new routines, which isn’t easy since we are all creatures of habit and his are all associated with smoking.
The result? He is angry; really, really angry. He knows he isn’t angry with us, but it doesn’t really matter because we are a safe place to assuage his anger. It comes out as short, sharp and dismissive, and that’s only because he’s trying so hard to keep his anger contained. He tells me he doesn’t like who he is right now. He means it.
His potential to explode is high, so tossing in any additional spark of my own would set things ablaze. Is it easy? Not for any of us. Am I good at not taking things personally? What do you think? Do I have a choice? Not if I want a lifetime with my husband, which I do. I firmly believe that love is an action word, and this is my time to act, not react.
This man walked me through crushing depression, tucked me in and took over when I needed it, rescued our family from drowning in student loan debt, and is my hero. It is my turn to stand strong for him.
2. Give him space, but not too much.
Jeff still doesn’t know what to do with himself. He’s used to watching hockey through the window while smoking on the back porch, taking multiple smoke breaks at work, smoking two cigarettes on the way to and from our ride to town, and lighting up while he takes the dogs out.
Nearly every activity involved smoking, so he’s at a loss what to do with himself now. So what does he do? He paces, snacks, and sleeps to escape the frustration.
My job is to pay attention. If he’s pacing, that’s pent up energy, and I need to stay out of the way. If he’s snacking, comments about potential weight gain are unnecessary. There is plenty of time to focus on healthy eating when Jeff gets over this initial hump. If he’s lying in bed, I crawl in close, tell him know how much I love him, and then let him sleep.
I told him just tonight that he was fighting the battle of his life. He is. I can’t fight the battle for him, but I will not leave his side while he goes through hell and back. This is a man who fought off a hatchet and won, I’ve no doubt he’ll make it through.
3. Have more sex.
Yes, you read correctly. No, I’m not joking. One major nicotine withdrawal symptom is difficulty sleeping. There are several recommendations to improve insomnia when quitting, but surprisingly sex isn’t one of them. Sex is an inexpensive, effective, and natural stress reliever. While it may be a stereotype that men fall asleep easily after sex, it consistently rings true in this household. Some days I feel miles away from Jeff, so this stress reliever goes both ways; after all, Jeff is my favorite ride.
And, if increased intimacy isn’t a convincing enough reason to hop in the sack with your man, studies show that due to the increased blood flow, stopping smoking also appears to have immediate and measurable benefits.
Bottom line, at 19 I was instantly and unavoidably attracted to a smoker. And while we have grown fearlessly old and grey, nothing else has changed. Well, except the fact that now I’m married to an ex-smoker.