January 7, 2016

It’s harder to quit smoking if there’s another smoker in the house. Here’s what to do.

Congratulations on deciding to quit smoking cigarettes! When things get tough, remind yourself that this is the single best thing you can do to improve your health for life.

But what if your spouse, significant other or another family member isn’t ready to quit their own smoking habit? You will be living with their smoking every day as you try to quit, which creates a lot of temptation.

Here’s how to quit smoking when your spouse smokes:

Get your spouse’s help in creating a smoke-free zone around you

This keeps you from seeing or smelling cigarettes and smoke. Ask them (nicely):

  • “Please smoke outside, not in the house or car.”
  • “Please do not smoke in my presence.”
  • “Please do not offer me any cigarettes.”

Explain that you want to improve your own health and feel better

Don’t turn conversations about your goal into criticism of their smoking habit or their health.

If your spouse is thinking of quitting, encourage them without nagging

Instead, gently ask: Are you willing to cut down on your daily habit?

Don’t be surprised if your spouse appears to be sabotaging you

When a person makes major changes for the better, sometimes his or her spouse does things – either deliberately or subconsciously – that sabotage the effort, like leaving cigarette packs lying around the house.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the book “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives,” about setting and breaking habits, offers this observation: “People may actively undermine our efforts to change. Someone’s new habit may make them feel abandoned, or jealous of the healthy habit and its consequences, or guilty in the face of someone else’s efforts, or hurt if the habit makes them feel rejected, or judged. Or maybe they’re just annoyed by some minor inconvenience it creates” — for example, the request to stop smoking in the car if that’s what they’re accustomed to.

So don’t be surprised if you get resistance. Rubin’s advice for dealing with your loved one’s discomfort? If your new, unfamiliar behavior is something you do only occasionally or inconsistently – in this case, going cigarette-free for a few days — “people don’t adjust,” Rubin writes. “If I make a habit of something, they adapt.”

The new habit becomes the new normal. If your spouse seems uncooperative, that makes your task of quitting harder. You’ll need to be extra vigilant about your cravings and how you deal with them. (Hint: using nicotine-replacement products is your best bet.) But after you’ve quit smoking completely, your spouse will probably accept that and stop doing things that make resisting cigarettes difficult for you.

Regardless of how little, or how much, support you get from your spouse and family as you try to break your cigarette habit, there are tools you can use to make the process easier. Besides nicotine-replacement medications, there are support groups and counseling that are proven to greatly increase people’s chances of quitting cigarettes, said Hilary Tindle, M.D., an associate professor in medicine, physician, and founding director of the Vanderbilt Center for Tobacco, Addictions and Lifestyle.

Tennessee’s quit-smoking service, TNquitline.org (hotline number 1-800-784-8669) can connect you with a counselor with resources on how to quit smoking when your spouse smokes.

And if your motivation falters, focus on the health benefits you’ll gain from quitting, no matter how long you’ve smoked. Your health actually begins to improve in small ways just 20 minutes after your last cigarette!

Need more help? We’re presenting a series of stories with advice and motivation on smoking cessation. Read them here.