If you are a non-smoker, and your spouse smokes you may be wondering what you can do to get him or her to stop smoking. As a hypnotist who helps people in the Greater Toronto area (Ontario, Canada) stop smoking with hypnosis I get asked this question all the time. Let’s begin with why you want your spouse to quit smoking. If is just because you can’t stand the smell or mess, your strategy will be different than if you are concerned about the health implications of his or her smoking. Focus on your ultimate outcome, not trying to force your partner to quit smoking.
I’ve yet to find an adult smoker that didn’t know that smoking is bad for them, but this knowledge doesn’t help them quit! I had a mental health nurse come to see me at my Toronto smoking cessation clinic, and she laughed about standing outside the hospital with her smoking buddy who was a cardiologist. These people knew more about the biological effects of smoking than we ever will, but this understanding did nothing to help them quit. If you nag your partner, the most likely outcome is that you will just create more resistance. Smokers need caring and loving support, not lectures about cancer and heart attacks.
Often spouses try emotional blackmail or control tactics and end up creating a power struggle and needless resistance. What works best is to come from a place of love so that you can talk with your partner about their smoking. Understand what smoking does for them. If you are able to discuss their habit in a non-threatening and loving way, you may find out that your spouse really wants to quit, but is afraid or doesn’t know how. If your love wants to kick the habit, then it becomes the two of you against the nasty habit instead of the two of you against each other. This will make your relationship stronger and the quit effort easier.
It may even surprise you to know that some smokers actually hate the habit but just can’t quit. They don’t believe they can cope without their crutch. However, if you try and force this type of person to quit, most often they will put up a smoke screen of anger or denial to prevent having to deal with uncomfortable feelings. What these people need to quit is love and support as well as help to change the belief systems and thought patterns that keep them hooked. Clearing out these patterns is the key to helping your partner break free.
The worst thing you can try to force your spouse to quit before they are ready since it will only make it harder for both of you. I’ve had people come to see me after a spouse said, “You get your butt in there and make him make you quit smoking.” Sure they come in to please their spouse, but they aren’t ready to quit, and they often put up so much resistance that I couldn’t work with them. Attempting to get someone to quit who isn’t ready is usually a recipe for disaster. At best it creates a lot of unnecessary struggle, but more often it results in a failed quit attempt. If your partner isn’t willing to quit, just accept it and continue to provide loving support so when they are ready you’ll be able to support them. Change the discussion to the subject of protecting your health and keeping your children clear of second hand smoke. Negotiate a code of conduct where your partner only smokes at designated times when the children aren’t home, and in designated locations outside the home. Make it about your rights to health and protecting your children, not about your partner’s right to smoke. Given the way attitudes have changed about smoking and research showing the dangers of secondhand smoke I’ve seen many cases where the smoking partner was very willing to cooperate as long as the negotiations were carried out in a loving and respectful manner.
What if that fails? Well then you have to ask yourself deeper questions about the value of your relationship and how important it is to you to live in a smoke free environment. If your spouse won’t quit or smoke outside, your best choices are either accept it, or move on if its something that you can’t live with. Just be sure that you don’t issue the ultimatum “it’s me or the smokes” unless are really serous about following though. Strong-arm tactics, emotional blackmail and other types of leverage usually just erode your relationship, which will make life unpleasant for both of you.
Coping with a spouse that doesn’t want to stop smoking isn’t easy, but if the situation is approached with sensitivity, love and respect, workable solutions are possible.