Reader Question: How Do I Get My Husband to Quit Smoking?

by | Sep 23, 2019 | Uncategorized | 15 comments

When you want your husband to quit smoking
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What do you do if your husband smokes, and you hate it, and you want him to quit?

On Mondays I try to post reader questions and take a stab at answering them, and here’s one on a subject that a number of people have sent in. One woman writes:

Reader Question

My husband works long hours at a job where everyone smokes. He used to smoke as a teenager, but then he quit, but now, ten years later, he’s taken it up again because everyone at work does. He knows I don’t like it, but he says it relaxes him. How do I get him to quit?

Great question!

My quick answer: you can’t. You can’t change anybody else.

But you can put boundaries around what you will accept, and you can also try some positive ways of helping him quit. I don’t have a definitive answer here, because I don’t think there is one, but I’m just going to post a whole bunch of quick thoughts, and then I’ll ask you all to chime in and tell me what you think!

Drawing boundaries when your husband smokes and won’t quit

1. Say no smoking in the house

It’s okay to say to him: “When you smoke in the house, I can’t get the smell out. I have to wash everything down, and the smell still lingers. I don’t like that. I won’t live in a house with smoking inside. So if you’re going to smoke, I’m going to ask you to do it outside.”

That actually shouldn’t be too difficult, because likely at work he has to smoke outside, too.

2. Say no smoking around the kids

I don’t know if you have children, but you can say to him,

Do you want our children to grow up healthy? Do you want them to grow up to become smokers?

I’m sure he’ll give the right answers. Who wants their kids to grow up smoking? Then just simply tell him that kids are three times as likely to smoke if they have a parent who smokes. You teach the kid that they should use cigarettes to calm nerves, and you tell them that all those health scare tactics to get people not to smoke isn’t that big a deal, because you ignore it.

Plus, second hand smoke is dangerous. So tell him that he can’t smoke around the children.

3. Refuse to kiss him if he has smoked or hug him if he hasn’t changed clothes or had a shower

My second-hand on the blog, Tammy, is a military chaplain’s wife, and she’s walked this route with so many wives in the past. And she always gives simple advice: Don’t kiss an ashtray. If he smokes, his breath will stink. And you can refuse to go near him if he’s smoked, or if he hasn’t changed clothes/showered. Make him brush his teeth if he wants to kiss, and make him shower and change if he wants a hug or anything else.

I’m not saying refuse to have sex. I am saying that it’s okay to not kiss someone when kissing them is highly unpleasant (on another note: we get questions all the time about husbands who refuse to brush their teeth. Nothing about smoking, but just guys with no hygiene. Why is that?)

Are you GOOD or are you NICE?

Because the difference matters!

God calls us to be GOOD, yet too often we’re busy being nice. And sometimes, in marriage, that can actually cause problems to be even more entrenched.

What if there’s a better way?

Look to the future without cigarettes

Those are the boundary things you can put in place for yourself and your family. Now let’s talk more about visioning!

4. Ask how he pictures his future

Talk about the future. Does he want to be smoking in ten years? Does he want to play with his grandkids? Does he want to enjoy hiking and outdoor activities without getting winded when he’s in his 50s? Then he has to stay in better shape now. If he doesn’t want to be smoking in ten years, or in five years, then you may as well quit now!

5. Calculate how much smoking is costing you, and decide something you can do instead for that amount of money

Here’s some info I found on how much cigarettes cost you:

From How Much Does Smoking Cost You?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $6.28, which means a pack-a-day habit sets you back $188 per month or $2,292 per year. Ten years of smoking comes with a $22,920 price tag.

In Canada, it’s much worse, because here a pack of cigarettes I think is close to $16. In fact, in Canada, giving up smoking a pack of cigarettes a day is basically your car payment.

However much cigarettes cost in your jurisdiction, figure out how much it costs him to smoke over the course of a year. Now think of something else that he’d really like. Make a promise that no matter what it is (even if you think it’s stupid), he’ll have your full endorsement to buy it in a year if he gives up smoking. Keep the jar in your kitchen, and add to it everyday. If he smokes, though, the jar gets emptied and you start again. It’s not like he can get away with just smoking one pack and keeping all that money. Nope. You’ve got to quit!

I know two different families where he spends so much on beer and cigarettes that the family has never been able to save for a downpayment. They’re always short of money, and much of it is because of all that gets wasted on these vices. If you figure out how you could be living without cigarettes, that makes a big difference.

6. Think about a new job

I don’t know how possible this is for him, but if the issue with smoking started at his work, can he work somewhere else? Can he get a different trade? I know smoking is really big in a lot of those jobs where there’s nothing to do for long periods of time, like guys who work on the oil rigs for months at a time, or the military, or security. Perhaps that lifestyle just doesn’t work with him. Is there something else he could be doing?

If you want a good way to vision together, you can download my visioning worksheets and work through them with him! This lets you have these conversations without sounding accusatory. You’re simply planning for the future, and then he’ll likely come to a lot of these same conclusions himself. Download them by filling in the form below!

Focus on making the here and now better

7. Quit something with him

Quitting is hard. Really hard. Show him you understand that by quitting some vice that you have, too, that you really hate. Maybe you resolve to lose some weight. Maybe you quit an addiction to diet pop, or to watching certain shows, or to TV in general. You know the one big thing that keeps you from living the life you want. Can you give that up to help him have someone to walk through this with?

8. Start something new

Is there a new hobby you guys can start in the evenings, so he isn’t bored and itching to go have a cigarette? Can you start a new routine right after dinner where there’s something to do, so he doesn’t have time to go grab a cigarette? Can you fill up your evenings more with volunteering or with activities? Can you get out and walk or start a sport together so you’re more active? If you can reduce the natural downtimes where he’d normally have a cigarette, he may not feel the pull quite as much.

Yes, this one requires you changing your life. But like I said–it’s hard to quit. If you want him to quit, and you want to help him, it’s going to be inconvenient for you, too. But it’s worth it!

 

Okay, those are the ideas that I’ve got. What about you? Any thoughts on how to help a husband quit smoking? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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15 Comments

  1. Nathan

    My mother gave up smoking in her mid 30s. We were living in a rather stressful situation at that time, so it was doubly hard for her. She had very little support and mostly had to go through it alone. My father didn’t seem to care either way what she did.

    But she managed to do it, and fairly quickly, and has been smoke free ever since while raising two boys almost on her own. She is one of my greatest heroes.

    Reply
  2. Nathan

    Slightly off topic. Sheila posts…
    > > (on another note: we get questions all the time about husbands who
    > > refuse to brush their teeth. Nothing about smoking, but just guys
    > > with no hygiene. Why is that?)

    Laziness. I hate to say it, but many of us just can’t spend the two minutes it takes to do this. For the record, I brushed my teeth 2 hours ago, although I could stand to do it more often

    Reply
    • Pam

      When I read an article like this and I see all the good ideas for convincing and helping a spouse to stop a bad habit or something that is hurting the family or the marriage, I become frustrated that the responsibility for change seems to always be on the one not causing the problem. Why is the wife having to show him statistics about children smoking? Why doesn’t HE care about that himself? Why should SHE have a discussion on future activities and health? Doesn’t he know that smoking is not good for ones health and future? The same is true for spouses who allow themselves to become so overweight it affects the family, the marriage and even their sex lives. Of course the overweight spouse knows these things are unhealthy and causing stress. I think when it comes down to it the spouse with the issue just plain doesn’t care. Or he wouldn’t start smoking in the first place or wouldn’t become overweight to the point of problems in the first place. And that’s why I think the ‘solutions’ aren’t to give a good list and make a good plan because I don’t think it will work because again they just don’t care. I think a REAL solution would be to buy good life insurance for when he dies sooner rather than later. Fix him up an apartment in the garage so all his stinky clothes and himself can reside there. I don’t think there is a solution to convince someone of something they already know and don’t care. So to me, the answer is to take prudent steps to mitigate the suffering these selfish actions cause for the spouse and the family. Because when it comes down to it that’s all the power a person has.

      Reply
  3. Mike S/

    So how would this article be different if the question was about a husband wanting his wife to lose weight?

    Would the approach be different if the sexes were reversed?

    (And, No, I’m not a smoker or overweight.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      We’re working on a product about what to do when you need your spouse to get healthy!

      I think the big thing there is to focus on HEALTH. Bigger people can be in great shape. If that’s the case, then it could just be that a woman has a larger frame. But keep the focus on health. You can say that you don’t want to feed your children junk, and so you cook for your kids and yourself (the equivalent of “if you’re going to smoke, you do it outside”). You can say you don’t want junk in the house so that the kids don’t get used to it/addicted to it. You can help her think of what she can accomplish in a year if she were in better shape, or how much money you’d save if you stopped buying candy/junk/eating out.

      Something like that. But when the focus turns to “I don’t find you attractive”, that’s not really going to help!

      Reply
      • Active Mom

        Sheila,
        I don’t mean to sound blunt with my question, I just don’t know how else to ask it. What if the behavior does make the person unattractive? It could be any number of vices, smoking, bad hygiene, laziness, or gaining weight? One of the reasons I was attracted to my husband was because of his healthy habits etc. If he changed the reality would be I would still love him but I may not still be attracted to him. Why do we judge people as though they are being mean when they are honest about that? I can understand a husband who struggles being attracted to a wife who has gained a lot of weight. I could also understand the struggle if the roles were reversed. I understand that you put the emphasis on health. But, what if she is healthy but 60 pounds heavier? That may not be attractive to their spouse. Just as a spouse who begins smoking may no longer be attractive to their spouse. Isn’t that just a consequence of their choices?
        Before all the women come out with their pitchforks and torches, I understand there can be health issues. However, we need to be honest we as people make excuses for our vices and our shortcomings. As Americans we are the most obese and unhealthy country in the world. By far.
        I am not trying to be mean. I agreed with the earlier commentator asking why we put responsibility on the spouse who doesn’t have the unhealthy habit.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s a great question. I just don’t think that telling your spouse that you’re not attracted to them anymore really ever helps. In fact, studies have shown that telling women that makes losing weight harder. It just is defeating and puts their worth too much in their body.

          I think it’s fine to say, though, “I find sex with you uncomfortable now because of your girth”, or “I find that sex doesn’t feel as pleasurable now that you’re heavier because the angle just isn’t as good” or “I find it disappointing that we can’t make love in as many positions anymore because of your weight gain.” I think those are valid. But saying, “I don’t find you attractive anymore” really will rarely work.

          However, a lot depends on your relationship. If you and your spouse, for instance, have both been health freaks in the past (I mean that in a good way) and you’ve been open about how attractive you find this, and you’re both quite confident, then you likely could say it. But for most people, hearing “I don’t find you attractive anymore” can be devastating in a marriage. So I think sticking to the specifics of the difficulties of sex now may be a more useful way to approach it (along with all of the health concerns, of course).

          Reply
          • Active Mom

            I understand. It would never be a good idea to say it as bluntly as I asked it. I guess I am wondering if a spouse felt like they could be honest if it would maybe be the one thing that could help the offending spouse stop the unhealthy habit. How many women are surprised with a separation that they didn’t see coming? In most cases from those that I have heard about this was one of the husbands issues. I’m not saying it’s right to divorce over this, but the fear of being honest over some of these unhealthy topics doesn’t make the resentment go away but rather fester. The wife ends up shocked and hurt because she may have been this weight for awhile, in many cases since she had her babies. The husband feels like he has given her years to lose the baby weight and when their child graduates high school he realizes she isn’t going to and then doesn’t feel any sexual interest anymore. It doesn’t have to be weight gain. Any vice will do. A wife may be fed up with the costs of cigarettes, the smell and the health costs and figures she can’t do it anymore. The husband is shocked because he has smoked since the kids were young. In both cases the healthy spouse may have tried to have the you need to get healthy talk and it was ignored or excuses were given. I have a friend who’s husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes more than 5 years ago. He was told he needs to stop smoking, lose half his body weight and just go for a short walk each night. He hasn’t done anything. He is no longer attractive to her. She still loves him, but there is no physical spark anymore. The health talks haven’t worked. I just wonder if a “I do not find you attractive, do you want to change that or not?” Would help. The reality is half of marriages end in divorce. Should they? No! But they are and unhealthy habits are one of the reasons.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            I actually think you’re making a good point here–it can feel like a harsh one, but I think important.

            I wonder if it may be better to frame in terms of, “These kinds of things are what really attracted me to you and parts of you I really really love–and I’d love to see us get back to that.” Obviously, life changes things and if you’ve had kids no you’re not going to look the same as you did when you got married 15 years ago and if someone is being unrealistic (like not recognizing that life is just busy and stressful when you have young kids, for instance, and demanding the same amount of one-on-one time as they had before children) this would also allow them to be called out a bit on their selfishness.

            But if it’s a legitimate concern like a health hazard, a vice, laziness, or whatever it is I think putting it in positive terms may be more effective. Instead of, “You’ve gained weight and I find you unattractive,” you can say, “I really miss going for hikes with you, and I miss feeling energetic and healthy like we did when we didn’t eat out as much. Can we work towards getting back to that?”

          • Ina

            As someone who hasn’t had an actual eating disorder, but certainly a very unhealthy relationship with food and self image as a teen (and,to a lesser extent, now as a young mom,) I definitely would echo what Sheila’s saying. I would also say that the spouse struggling with not being attracted first needs to do some very careful and prayerful consideration to determine if their spouse is really unhealthy or if they’ve bought into a societal lie about what women should look like. If it’s that she’s super sedentary and eating crap, working together on a healthier lifestyle would probably be a good idea. But if it’s because he’s been brainwashed by our swimsuit and body-obsessed society then he needs to relearn attraction. Imean, only a few weeks after giving birth I get bombarded on social media with ads for weight loss products and tips for losing the baby weight and stretch marks. Frankly,if I were to hear it from my husband too… yes,it would be devastating.

      • Elsie

        Thanks for the great discussion! I wanted to agree that I think it is best to focus on health rather than weight. Most people view being overweight as a moral failing or lack of self control but that isn’t necessarily the case. Research is now coming out that being overweight changes your metabolism, possibly for the rest of your life. A person who loses weight has to then eat less calories than someone who has always been that weight. Many people lose weight but eventually gain it back because in order to sustain it, they would have to be hungry all the time. I definitely think that if people have unhealthy habits, they should change them but that won’t always lead to weight loss and it’s sad that heavier people are stigmatized for something that is largely biological.

        Reply
  4. Nathan

    Pam, you’re right in your analysis. In cases like this, often the person CAUSING the problem doesn’t realize or care that it IS a problem, leaving it up to the other spouse to do most of the legwork to solve things.

    In a marriage where both want to be the best person they can, though, that’s how it works. Sometimes the wife is the force for change, and sometimes the husband is. Hopefully, the two are fairly load-balanced.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, and I think we all can have blind spots/bad habits, and that’s why we need each other to hold us accountable and spur us on to love and good deeds, as Hebrews says! Ideally no one would ever do anything destructive, but it rarely works that way. And often a spouse can be the biggest influence taking you back from destruction.

      Reply
  5. BD

    These are all good suggestions, Sheila, and definitely worth trying. As you said, no one can change another person. I think your suggestions will be helpful if your spouse is open and willing to change.

    My husband smoked intermittently throughout our marriage. In the past several years, it became a point of contention. I found the smell truly disgusting (no amount of teeth brushing could remove the smell), and it put a damper on our intimacy. He argued that since he only smoked a few a day, it wasn’t putting his health in danger, nor was it a drain on our finances. Had I suggested that I quit something, too, he would have seen it as manipulation. He isn’t an affectionate husband, so refusing to hug or kiss him would have meant nothing. He used smoking as a stress reliever, and wouldn’t smoke until he got home from work, then just a few cigarettes in the hours before bed. Pointing out that there are better ways to relieve stress had zero effect.

    So, I prayed. And prayed, and prayed and prayed. The Lord changed his heart; I don’t know if it was having a son (after three daughters), or our children growing up and expressing their own disgust, or my father’s stroke, or what the Lord used to convince him, but he stopped. He’s been smoke free for a couple of years, and I’m so, so thankful. He’s still unhealthily overweight, doesn’t exercise, etc, but at least he’s not smoking anymore.

    We can’t change our spouses, but the Lord can.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s wonderful! I’m so glad that God worked in his life.

      And certainly prayer is crucial. We all need to ask God to work in our marriages. When we pray, we release our marriage into Gods’ hands, and He does so much.

      My only reservation is that God does not force anyone to change, either. He can draw them, He can whisper to them, yell at them, change circumstances, and everything. But He doesn’t force people. So I don’t want people to think that if they pray and then their spouse didn’t change that they somehow didn’t have enough faith. God gives us free will, and, tragically, some people choose badly.

      Prayer gives God openings to do amazing things. And He can draw people. But ultimately we can still resist Him, and I just don’t want anyone to think that if their spouse hasn’t changed it’s because they prayed wrong or didn’t pray enough.

      I think what’s really powerful especially is when a couple can pray together. When you do that, and you bring God in the midst of you, even if you’re not praying for that particular thing, you bind together so much more that often the Spirit loosens what we’re holding back. I think if more couples could make prayer a habit that they do together, even if just for a few minutes, a lot of these problems would diminish.

      Reply

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