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My boyfriend smokes tobacco. (Once in a while, he might roll a joint. It helps him relax. I don't mind it because it's not on a daily basis). Both my mother and his parents know about it. I actually worry more about the effects of tobacco.

Sometimes my mother visits us and there had been a couple of times, where he happened to do it in front of her knowing that she knows about it. My mom is a very discreet person and never said anything so far to indicate it had bothered her. I certainly thought it hadn't.

Recently though, and after watching some documentary about the effects of smoking in general, she told me she doesn't feel as comfortable. Boyfriend doesn't smoke right in her face and almost always asks if parents mind if visiting. His dad lets him smoke inside the house but my mom and his mom don't do that. Mom is concerned a lot and she wants to say something about it but she doesn't know how to approach it since it's not really her business whether he smokes or not. I don't want her to say anything but I don't want her to stop visiting either. I told her that I'd rather she never came by the house again than saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I don't want this escalating. We are in our thirties.

My mom has an increased concern about my boyfriend's health because of the smoking and the fact that I am a passive smoker, which is understandable. People smoke. He is one of them. Do I particularly like that he smokes? NO. But I can't make him stop. I know my mom's concerns are valid and that she feels uncomfortable about it but she tends to be a bit stubborn about it and not wanting to drop the subject. (Not saying she's wrong but she tends to lecture me about it).

How do I address these concerns? If I decide to tell my boyfriend about it, how can I tell him to minimize conflict? Is there anything my mom can say next time she visits that won't make things awkward and potentially cause a fight?

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    So does your mom want your bf to stop entirely or only when she visits? If the latter, is that an unreasonable request for some reason? – Catija Sep 21 '17 at 21:08
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    She doesn't like it but she knows she has no say in general. She just doesn't know how to tell him not to do it in front of her when she had accepted it in the past just fine. – Tycho's Nose Sep 21 '17 at 21:10
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    Regarding your last edit, understood. However in the paragraph about your mother (Recently though...) you basically dismiss your mother's ability to make her own decisions. Honestly I can't tell if the real concern should be for her or you. – user3169 Sep 21 '17 at 22:03
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    Is your mother's concern the pot specifically or the smoking in general? – Catija Sep 21 '17 at 22:42
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    I'm still confused why asking him now seems to be a problem. People change their minds about things. Is it a deeper concern that your mother will use this to make more requests (beyond the scope of good hosting), that she's already overreaching, that your bf will respond extraordinarily negatively, or some other bad possibility? Otherwise, "please don't smoke around me" seems like a pretty straightforward conversation. – user3457 Sep 21 '17 at 23:02

10 Answers 10

59

I'm sure someone on Stack Exchange doesn't know that I have a one-year-old. When I was pregnant, my husband and I went crazy trying to figure out how to explain to my dad and his partner that being in their home, inundated with cigarette smoke, was not something we were going to subject an infant to. We needed them to choose - smoke inside their home or get visits from their only child/grandchild. The health of my son was too much of a risk for me.

I wasn't telling them they had to stop entirely. They can choose on their own whether to smoke or not, but when it affects me, my spouse and our son, I decided it was necessary to make a stand. We conveyed our wishes to them and, in the end, my dad stopped smoking entirely and my step-dad started smoking on the porch and we go to visit them from time to time. They've also started visiting us more.


Your mom has the right to protect her own body from substances that she's not interested in breathing. Your mom also needs to respect that your boyfriend's choices are his own, whether she approves of them or not. Mutual respect is important for both parties to come to an agreement on this subject because a solution that meets all of your requirements will likely necessitate both parties make some concessions.

If she is willing to limit her restriction to "don't do it while I'm visiting", I think this is a reasonable thing for you to ask your boyfriend to comply with. Emphasis on you. You are dating him, living with him; she's your mother who you're worried will phrase things in ways that aren't very tactful.

So, sit down with your boyfriend before your mom visits the next time and explain your concerns about her issues with his smoking pot. Ask him to not do it while she's visiting to respect her wishes for not being around it. Let him know how important it is to you that she visit and that you will be upset if she can't come anymore.

Remind him that, while she's also family, when she's visiting, she's your guest and as host, it's necessary to respect reasonable requests from your guests, which this is. As you and he knows, smoking (especially pot) is something that makes many people uncomfortable; even if they're not concerned with the health issues, they may be concerned for legal reasons.

Hopefully, he will agree with you and will comply with your mother's wishes and that she will stop making an issue of it when she can't see it happening any more. If she moves the bar and starts asking you to get him to stop entirely, then you push back and explain why he smokes... many people smoke pot for medicinal reasons, perhaps you boyfriend is one of these?

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    Good answer, especially the "Emphasis on you" +1. You should revise the last sentence though. The primary issue in the question is tobacco use, not pot use. There probably is no generally accepted beneficial reason to use tobacco, beyond addiction or peer pressure. – user3169 Sep 21 '17 at 22:37
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    @user3169 I was chatting with the op earlier and I got the impression that the mother's primary concern was the pot, not the tobacco, which is why I ended with that. Perhaps something Tycho can clarify? – Catija Sep 21 '17 at 22:41
  • Didn't the OP mentioned that her mother was annoyed by both? – avazula Sep 22 '17 at 7:32
  • @Catija To me, it sounds like the the bf will be held responsible for the op not spending time with her mother, might just be me though – Traceur Sep 22 '17 at 18:08
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There are three people in this situation; yourself, your mother and your partner. The conflict is about how your mother feels about your partner smoking in her presence. The trigger was your mother saying something about how she feels, and it has escalated with you telling your mother that she should choose between visiting and stating her opinions.

Everyone has a couple of choices:

You can:

  1. Demand that your partner doesn't smoke in your mother's presence. You will risk your relationship with your partner, but strengthen your relationship with your mother.
  2. Ask your partner not to smoke in your mother's presence, and explain why. You might get a concession from your partner, and your mother can keep visiting.
  3. Ask your mother to not complain while visiting and explain why. You might get a concession from your mother, and she can keep visiting.
  4. Demand your mother choose between not complaining when visiting or not visiting. You will risk your relationship with your mother, but possibly strengthen your relationship with your partner.

Your mother can:

  1. Not visit. She will lose contact with you, but will not risk her health
  2. Visit and complain. She will deteriorate her relationship with you and your partner, keep risking her health, but will keep some contact.
  3. Visit and not complain. She will risk her health, but will keep contact.

Your partner can:

  1. Give up smoking all together, and find other mechanisms to relax. It will be quite difficult, but may be better for his health in the long run. It will strengthen his relationship with you (because you don't like him smoking) and your mother.
  2. Make a concession and smoke outside while your mother is visiting. It will be an inconvenience for him, but will strengthen his relationship with yourself and possibly with your mother.
  3. Not make a concession and stand his ground. He will keep his freedom but might cause a rift between you and your mother which risks his relationship with both of you.

It seems to me that the choices which have the best benefit/cost ratio are for your mother to keep visiting but not complain, for yourself to ask your partner kindly to not smoke in your mother's presence and for your partner to make a concession.

Because it's rare that two persons always have the same desires and goals, long term relationships require compromise. You are already making a compromise by accepting that your partner smokes even though you do not like it.

If your partner puts his convenience ahead of your feelings and your relationships with other people by not being willing to take a couple of steps to smoke outside on those rare occasions your family members are visiting, he's giving you a signal on his ability to compromise — in other words, to be your partner.

You then again have a choice of trying to influence a change in him or giving up.

6

There are a couple things going on here.

First of all, you are, and always will be, your mother's kid. We parents, for bad or good, have spent almost all your life teaching you how to be a grown-up, looking out for you, and in general preventing catastrophe. It's hard to move from being a participant to being a spectator in your life.

Establishing boundaries with parents is hard. With some it's harder than others. Different cultures also have different senses of boundaries (ask an Indian what happens if they tell their parents "no"...)

Arguing only will put people in harder positions. What is your relationship like? is it normally open and communicative? Or is it not? If it's open and communicative, then generally a "I love seeing you; in our house we do things this way. I know it bothers you and I'm really sorry about that. That's a choice we've made and all I can ask is that it be respected" or something along that line can work.

If, on the other hand, it's more about avoiding conflict, domination, or other less-healthy interactions, you have your work cut out for you. You want the same result: someone respecting your home and not telling an adult how to live their life. If that's the case, then I'd suggest removing the home from the occasion. Meet somewhere where smoking is allowed (that used to be a restaurant, but...) and have a good time together. Do this several times to get her used to seeing your boyfriend smoking there. After she gets used to this, then consider a short visit together.

If, on the other hand, she lays on the "mom guilt", then you both have a larger issue to deal with and smoking is only an indicator of it. If that's the case, I'd recommend professional help for you to form a plan of action. Dealing with manipulative (and that's what guilt is) people is challenging at best and at worst can erupt in conflict.

Now, WRT the boyfriend: if you have a good relationship, tell him what's going on. You'll have to choose a position (sorry), whether that's supporting one or the other or mediating. Explain to him what's going on; he may be OK with smoking outside while Mom visits. Either way, take the position of "it's our house; I'm working with her to adjust to this". Nothing gets rid of a boyfriend like feeling unsupported. :(

Lastly: smoking weed. Some professions mandate reporting of pot (or any drug) usage. Given that it's illegal in the majority of states and federally (I'm avoiding judgement here; these are facts), she has more ground to stand on to be uncomfortable. I'd suggest for the good of all relationships that you avoid drug usage around a non-partaking third party. If worst comes to worst, that's a phone call to the cops with a known witness. Nothing good can come from that.

Good luck -BP

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    The OP has stated their location as Southern Europe. – Catija Sep 21 '17 at 22:21
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    @Catija Where did they do that? They say BF's family is from the U.S. and the mother is from Southern Europe, but I don't see anything about where they are, though perhaps I misread or overlooked it. – reirab Sep 22 '17 at 23:15
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    @reirab The tag. Also in chat. – Catija Sep 22 '17 at 23:16
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    @Catija It's tagged both Southern-Europe and United-States. – reirab Sep 22 '17 at 23:18
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    The us tag was added much later. @reirab – Catija Sep 22 '17 at 23:19
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I would place this firmly in the category of an over reach. You're an adult, so I assume your boyfriend is too.

Your mother is free to disagree with smoking for whatever reasons, but going into someone else's home and expecting to set a rule is expecting too much. If your boyfriend decides to be accommodating and smoke outside, that would be a nice, considerate thing to do, but he lives there, with you, and she does not.

You two make the rules in your home, allowing your mother to start making rules will be setting a very dangerous precedent. If she's the sort of mother that is still trying to tell you how to live, when you're in your thirties, you're definitely on a slippery slope.

With that out of the way...

How do I address my mom not wanting my bf to smoke when she visits us?

Mention it to your boyfriend. Let him decide if he wants to be accommodating.

Is there anything my mom can say next time she visits that won't make things awkward and potentially cause a fight?

This part is really broad... And it really depends on your boyfriend and if he wants to be accommodating. Is there anything she can say to convince him to quit? Probably not. Could she be incredibly sweet and ask him really nicely to take it outside? Possibly.

5

Preface: I have never smoked tobacco in my life but I did smoke marijuana twice when I was in my 40s, just to see what the fuss was all about. I was fine. I didn't get hooked. :)

Is your mother more concerned with tobacco smoke or with marijuana? Or does your boyfriend smoke both substances in her presence? This aspect is still unclear in your question, but I think the distinction is relevant.

One can easily argue that smoking tobacco is more acceptable and is not in breach of any law. He is, therefore, free to do as he pleases in his own house. It is not polite behavior, in my opinion, but you have the law on your side.

However, smoking marijuana in your mother's presence, to me, shows greater disrespect. Maybe because I am in my 50s, and old-fashioned, but I wouldn't like it. Some countries in southern Europe, permit adults to smoke marijuana legally, in the privacy of their home. Wikipedia has more information about the legality of cannabis by country. Again, if your boyfriend is not breaking the law, he can argue that it is his home and he has the right to smoke pot where and when he wants to.

I have a son who is 28 years old. He does not live with me, but when he comes to visit, once a week, we chat, we have dinner together, we watch something on the computer and generally we enjoy each other's company.

My son smokes. I do not know if he smokes marijuana, I hope he doesn't; however, I can tell he smokes cigarettes because his clothes carry that distinctive odor. When he visits me at home, and he needs to smoke a cigarette he goes outside on the balcony. Each and every time.

I do not need to tell him this. I do not ask him to stop smoking because it is not my business, but he understands that I don't like my small flat to reek of smoke.

Whenever I have visited my ex-husband, a 40-a-day smoker, I refrain from asking him not to smoke in the same room. He cannot help himself, he is a chain-smoker and he is addicted. When we were married, I tried a million times, for a million good reasons, to convince him to stop smoking. He never did.

I cannot impose my lifestyle on him, but when I do visit I have asked him to wait until I leave before chainsmoking. He agrees. Reluctantly. He still smokes but at least he waits five minutes before lighting up a new cigarette. Baby steps, let's look on the positive side, I tell myself...

If your boyfriend is mature, considerate and thoughtful, he will know better than to smoke in front of your mother when she comes to visit. It's a small price to pay, no one is asking or expecting him to stop smoking (tobacco or marijuana).

  • He's respectful towards my mom and his parents when we go visit them. He always smokes outside. It's my mom being weird suddenly about the smoking when she visits. – Tycho's Nose Sep 22 '17 at 0:52
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    @Tycho'sNose You're mom may be acting different than she did before, but her behavior is hardly weird. In fact, I'd say it's pretty normal. – Kevin Sep 22 '17 at 12:48
  • That preface implies that smoking it twice isn't enough to get hooked. For you it might not have been, but for others it may be. I'd recommend clarifying this so that it is clearer and other people don't get the wrong idea. "Only two or three times won't hurt" might lead to "I'll have another today then stop" then to addiction. – wizzwizz4 Sep 22 '17 at 16:00
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This answer is framed along the lines of a brief dialogue exchange with the OP in the comments section of the question.

A clarification was requested from the OP:

Would you mind sharing what his take on smoking is if his parents were to visit you guys?

OP's reply:

I don't think he's done it in front of them ever.

It almost feels as though this is in complete contrast with the following remarks in the question:

Both my mother and his parents know about it. [...] Sometimes my mother visits us and there are a few times where he happened to do it in front of her knowing that she knows about it.


Suggestion:

When he's not smoking, you could try and ask him politely if he does smoke before his parents (even though the answer is known beforehand). When he answers in negative, you could use this fact to ask / suggest / request him to not smoke before your Mom too (without even hinting that she's uncomfortable).

Hopefully, this might be seen as a reasonable request, and appreciated in it's own right — just to keep the things fair for the people involved, without being too intrusive or obtrusive with anyone.

2

There's two halves to this, the forceful side and the encouraging side. The forceful side, which deals with the question of whether your mom can demand that your boyfriend stop smoking when she's around is the easy one to answer: no. She's visiting you at his house. You're the one who is living in your boyfriend's apartment without paying rent. It's his house, and your mom should not have any reason to expect that she can demand he stop smoking in his own house. The ownership situation is just too clear in this case to permit any other answer.

This means your mother needs to be comfortable with the fact that her desire not to be smoked in front of may result in her simply not being invited to visit you guys, which brings in the other half of the story. There's nothing here which prevents you from encouraging the boyfriend to choose to not smoke in front of your mother. Here's where you and your boyfriend have to work together. How much do you want your mother to visit? Mow much does your boyfriend want to smoke? These desires can be balanced, if you take the time to talk about them. If having your mother visit is a very important thing to you, hopefully you can convey that enough to encourage him to invite her over (without smoking in front of her) more often. If he strongly desires to smoke on a continuous basis, perhaps you should try to meet your mother somewhere else, without him. Also, if he can't avoid smoking for a few hours to make you happy, consider that a sign of addiction which you should factor into your long-term life choices.

Which brings me to the answer to some of your questions: talk to your boyfriend. You're not risking conflict by doing so -- the conflict is already present. Smoking is a big factor in one's life. Knowing that your potential mother-in-law doesn't want to be smoked in front of is an important piece of information. Make it clear that you are not demanding that he stop smoking, but that you'd like to talk the situation over and find the right answer. Recognize that the right answer might be that your mother doesn't visit. You wont know the right answer until you take the time to discuss it.

In theory this is a three person talk, involving you, your mother, and your boyfriend. Three person talks reach delicate balances. Fortunately, in this case you don't really need to involve your mother. From what you describe about her behavior, she has already made her position very clear, so there's unlikely to be some subtle nuance that shows up in discussion. That being said, if the solution you and your boyfriend come to is "mother just doesn't visit," that might be a good time to approach your mother and see if she's interested in taking a more nuanced position. It also might be a time to ponder whether the relationship should continue if it could lead to toxic family interactions. Hopefully, however, you come to a more balanced answer than that. There's usually a balance worth fighting for.

  • I don't see how the ownership situation is clear. I saw a comment that asked about the ownership, but I didn't see a response. – Rick Sep 22 '17 at 17:34
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    @Rick From the comments, the apartment they are living in is the boyfriend's apartment, and the OP is not paying any rent. The comments for that may have been cleaned though. – Cort Ammon Sep 22 '17 at 17:43
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I smoke, and when there are people around who don't like it, I go somewhere else.

If you're concerned that your bf will get upset when you tell him your mother's wishes, that's a red flag about the basis of the relationship. If he actually does get upset, then that's simply not a relationship you want to be in.

Trust your mother not to ruin your relationship, she's got your back.

2

First, here is where I am coming from with this answer: I am a mother (my kids are much younger than you, though) and last year, my mother's best friend died much too young from a tobacco smoke-related cancer. Jan never smoked, but her husband was a smoker. He died fifteen years ago from lung cancer.

Here's where I think your mother is probably coming from: She is scared for you.

  1. You are living with a man who is regularly engaging in an activity that you don't like, and that you both know is harmful to you.

I actually worry more about the effects of tobacco.
. . .
My mom has an increased concern about . . . the fact that I am a passive smoker, which is understandable. . . . Do I particularly like that he smokes? NO. But I can't make him stop.

  1. You are so worried about this relationship (or perhaps your boyfriend's reactions) that you would rather your mother never visit you again than communicate a fairly reasonable guest-request to him.

I told her that I'd rather she never came by the house again than saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
. . .
If I decide to tell my boyfriend about it, how can I tell him to minimize conflict? Is there anything my mom can say next time she visits that won't make things awkward and potentially cause a fight?

These are significant red flags for a relationship that is both physically and emotionally unhealthy. Of course you are an adult, and are legally entitled to engage in self-destructive behavior without the interference of your parents. Your mother knows this, which is why she is couching her concern in terms of her visits rather than your relationship and living arrangements. It doesn't matter how old children get, parents are still going to worry about their well-being. That's the nature of parental love.

You haven't asked for advice about your relationship, only about the specific smoking issue. With that in mind, I would suggest keeping your mother's profound love for you in the forefront of your mind as you negotiate with her. Let her know that you share her health concerns, and as a responsible adult you are working on the issue with your boyfriend for the health of all concerned. Then actually work on the issue.

When you speak to your boyfriend about this, leave your mother out of it entirely (at first). Express your concern about both your health and his. Tell him you are frightened of the long-term consequences for both of you. You love him, and want to enjoy a long and healthy life together.

Watch him carefully for his reaction: Is he also concerned about your health? Does he take your concerns seriously? Is he willing to try to find a way to protect you from the consequences of his dangerous habit? If so, great! He will need to either stop smoking (best possible outcome for everyone but the tobacco companies) or start smoking outside the house only (good for you and mom, not so great for him).

On the other hand, if he is more concerned about his "right" to smoke in "his" house than your right to breathe safe air, you will have a good idea of where you come in his priorities. At that point, you can either take steps to protect yourself or make a more limited request that he at least not smoke in the house when non-smoking guests come over. This would be a very large compromise on your part compared to him never smoking in the house (or at all), and should therefore be an easier request for him to comply with.

If he is even unwilling to limit smoking when guests come over and you still want to remain in this relationship, go back to your mother and let her know this. Tell her that you really need her support and that you don't want to become estranged from her over this issue. You need people who care about you in your corner, and you don't want to lose her.

  • Your answer resonates with me on so many levels. Thank you. – Tycho's Nose Sep 24 '17 at 21:24
0

I told her that I'd rather she never came by the house again than saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

*To clarify - have you already had an "argument" with your mother where you have effectively told her not to come over if she doesn't like your boyfriend smoking (tobacco or marijuana)? If so, you have already stepped across a very significant line in your relationship with her

I believe the answer is ultimately quite simple. "My house, my rules". Your boyfriend should be able to smoke in his own home.

However that simple answer will not make your mother happy. So it becomes a question of moderation and respect. It is your job to ask your boyfriend not to smoke in front of her. It is not a conversation your mother should expect to ever have with him.

If your boyfriend refuses to do this, that gives a pretty clear indication of his attitude to your mother. If your own preference is for him to stop smoking in front of her, and he still refuses, that gives a pretty clear indication of his attitude to you.

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    We're not here to be the morality police, I feel like the first two paragraphs don't really answer the question. How the op has currently handled the situation shouldn't be apart of the answer. It's about the direct answer, which the latter three paragraphs would suffice. – Bradley Wilson Sep 21 '17 at 21:38
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    I agree with Bradley - and have edited the first two paragraphs out completely. They don't answer the question at all. – Rory Alsop Sep 21 '17 at 22:04
  • I told her she is putting me in an awkward position if she said something out of the blue, without warning and without us coming to an agreement of how we should handle this. So I told her, "until we figure this out, don't come to the house". – Tycho's Nose Sep 21 '17 at 22:24
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    Therefore this is no longer a question of asking your mother to tolerate or asking your boyfriend to change. You have already chosen to make your mother unwelcome, rather than raise her concerns with your boyfriend. – Baracus Sep 21 '17 at 22:35

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