9

Background

I met this girl, who we'll call Alice, about two years ago, and we have been casually dating for the past 2-ish months. She has been an off-and-on smoker for a handful of years, and when we first met, it was during an 'off' period.

However, Alice picked up the habit again about 6 months ago.

When we first started casually dating it didn't bother me much, but it's progressively become something I don't enjoy being exposed to. I also have found that I'm not comfortable dating a smoker in general, due to their associated health risks and the expenses of such a habit.

Alice was originally going to stop smoking last month, and made great strides to cut down how many cigarettes she was consuming daily. However, she did not fully stop by her target date. She has continued to still smoke a couple times a day, and I can always smell it on her when we see each other.

What I Have Tried

I told Alice that this bothers me, and I can't see myself in a long term relationship with someone who smokes (emphasizing that I'd be very concerned about her health). I also expressed to her that if there's anything I can do to assist her, to let me know. She was understanding, expressed that she did still want to quit but that her biggest vice was during her breaks at work, and said she would make a bolder attempt to completely cut it out of her life.

That being said, a few weeks have passed and I feel like things have actually gotten worse. Instead of only smelling the smoke on her on her work days, I've noticed I've also smelled it on her on two occasions where she didn't even have work that day.

When I asked her about those specific days, she gave me very specific reasons why she had smoked on those days:

"I had a lot of anxiety about going to the doctor."

and

"That was just a habitual smoke while I was driving around."

I've found it hard to figure out where to go from here (and am in need of help) because:

  • Alice has a diagnosed anxiety disorder that can make communicating difficult.

    If I don't approach the subject delicately, it's easy for Alice to shut down. I want to make sure I don't make Alice's smoking habits worse by sounding like I am demanding or attacking her.

    I feel like this has also made Alice feel like she can't talk to me about her progress, because she knows it can potentially bother me (and the idea of possible tension would make her very anxious).

  • I know that I don't understand what it's like to quit smoking.

    My most primitive feelings are that Alice doesn't want to quit smoking, or she would have done it by now. However, I know that breaking this addiction can be difficult, and I can't understand what it's like from her point of view. If Alice is telling me that she does want to quit smoking, I don't feel it's fair for me to "tell" her otherwise.

Question

How can I express my feelings about Alice's (seeming lack of) progress to her in a supportive way that doesn't downplay how much this situation worries/bothers me?

  • Is she addicted to nicotine? (if she smokes on/off, maybe not). Is she open to a substitute? (vaping, etc) – peufeu Dec 5 '17 at 19:38
  • @peufeu She has a very addictive personality and is definitely addicted to it. By on/off, I guess I mean more to reflect she's quit before for a year or so at a time. She's also tried nicotine gum, but can't stand it. I'm unsure about other substitutes. – Jess K. Dec 5 '17 at 19:46
  • I have a friend who struggled with smoking off and on for a while. A few years ago he got a prescription for a drug to help him stop (Chantix I believe), and I haven't seen him smoke since. There are also patches and other nicotine substitutes which may help if Alice just doesn't like the gum. – David K Feb 8 '18 at 13:09
15

I should probably start off this answer by admitting that I'm a smoker. I've quit and started again more times than I can count over the years, it's honestly one of the hardest addictions to break. Trust me on that, I know...

As far as being supportive of someone who's trying to kick an addiction, often the best thing you can do is celebrate their successes, while trying not to punish their failures.

Cutting down to a couple cigarettes a day/week is a huge step in the right direction, try to focus on that. Cutting out those last couple cigarettes is much harder than it looks from the outside and once someone is completely nicotine free, staying that way can be exceptionally hard. Cigarettes get you on a psychological level like few other addictions can...

So, if you really want to offer support. Do just that. Offer to be someone they can call when they feel like lighting up. Someone who they can talk to about how they're feeling and why they want to smoke just then, who isn't going to scold or judge, but who's going to encourage them to do the right thing.

A couple of helpful support tricks:

I know you're really struggling right now, can you not smoke for 15 minutes? Just put it off for 15 minutes, if you still need a smoke after 15 minutes call me back and if it's really bad you can smoke.

Delaying the gratification like this can help someone push through momentary temptations. Like when driving, or after a meal, sometimes just waiting a few minutes is all it takes for the impulse to pass.

How about instead of smoking when you're stressed you hit me up and talk to me about what's bugging you? Or just step outside for a non-smoke break and get a little fresh air.

One of the huge things about being a smoker is the mental breaks it allows you throughout the day. Every few hours, or less, a smoker steps away from the world to smoke. Learning that it's still OK to do that without smoking will help.

  • @JessK As another smoker (albeit I've only seriously tried to stop a couple of times) I can echo how hard it is to give up, especially "the last couple". I very much doubt that anyone who hasn't been a (regular) smoker can truly appreciate this (people I've known who have given up have said the temptation to light-up can still be there 10 or 15 years after doing so). As apaul says; praise the good bits; encourage the "wait 15 minutes" (but not necessary all the time – read her mood and occasionally let it pass) and try not to criticise the lapses, as that will usually be counterproductive. – TripeHound Dec 7 '17 at 14:25
  • When I previously quit for a while, the waiting 15 minutes (I used to do 30) worked REALLY well for me, especially after meals (the urge to smoke is very strong after eating, but passes) – Tim Dec 7 '17 at 15:22
  • Regarding celebrating the success, a few coworker in the company I work for, made a bet of 500€-1000€ that they don't smoke for 6 months. As far as I know, it seems to work for them to have a goal (money) to achieve besides wanting to quit – XtremeBaumer Feb 8 '18 at 10:27
7

Has Alice asked you for help giving up?

I can identify quite strongly with Alice here. Like Alice I’m quite anxiety prone. I gave up smoking some years ago, a short while after I started a relationship. I knew he didn’t like smoking (loss of partner to cancer) and I wanted to stop anyway. He knew I was a smoker when we met, but I never smoked in front of him and he never asked if I was still smoking. I didn’t kid myself that he didn’t know, the slightest smoke molecule on your clothes, hair or skin smells like an ashtray to a non-smoker. He knew but said zip and Zi got on with giving up in my own time.

If he’d expressed concern or offered encouragement I would have felt monitored, judged and massively de-motivated, probably resentful. We’d almost certainly have rowed about it, it would have been a huge messy deal and we’d probably not have lasted.

So my take is that you have to consider how likely Alice is to succeed within a timescale you can live with. Think about whether you are okay with the fact that Alice and only Alice is in control if this and that you can’t speed things up from the outside, no matter how much of your desire to do so springs from concern for Alice.

Help if she asks, don’t if she doesn’t. Decide if you can be with the person she is rather than the person she’d be if she wasn’t a smoker.

  • 2
    I appreciate this answer, and I'll make two notes on my situation. The first is that how you express you would've felt if he had said anything is exactly what I want to avoid, as I do recognize the thin line this conversation can tread. However, Alice did ask me to help her quit smoking by her original goal date. At the time, I had also taken up smoking casually due to a dark point in my life. We made it a point to "quit together", although it was much easier for me since I had no addiction. – Jess K. Dec 5 '17 at 23:27
1

Smoking IS harmful to health, and that is an indisputable fact. Associating with a smoker in the long term is also harmful to your health.

Your dilemma springs from your relationship with her, not your general dislike of smoking. You don't stop random smokers in the street and tell them not to smoke - this is only an issue because you care about the girl, so I believe you should focus on how it makes you feel and how it impacts your relationship. Likely she has heard all the smoking cessation arguments before and they don't appear to have helped.

You have stated that you can't see yourself in a long term relationship with someone who smokes - so you need to ask yourself - are you prepared to end the relationship if she is unable to quit smoking?

If the answer to the above question is yes then you should explain the situation again, restate your position and give her a reasonable time period in which to quit. Repeat your offer of assistance because you really want to help her quit, but stick to your ultimatum. Your health is at stake. If she doesn't quit or make reasonable progress towards it, end the relationship.

If the answer to the above question is no then any such ultimatum would be a bluff. You'd like her to quit but if you are not prepared to end the relationship you need to face up to the fact she could smoke all her life, or spend a lifetime trying (and failing) to quit because nobody was tough enough to show her the consequences beyond the obvious health effects.

Electronic cigarettes have been suggested in previous answers - these have found to be safer than smoking, but it is important to note that e-cigs (or vaping) are a smoking sensation device, not a smoking cessation device. In plain English: they make you feel like you are smoking and feed your addiction, they don't stop your nicotine addiction. While it is true that some people have switched to 'vaping' and are healthier as a result, you have to ask yourself what would happen if a 'vaper' was on a night out and they left their e-cig at home, or ran out of liquid. They'd ask someone for a cigarette, because they are still addicted. I just thought I would address this because this girl sounds like she needs to face up to the addiction problem, not avoid it.

The good news seems to be that she has quit before - or she says she has. If that is true then she can do it again.

Hope this helps.

  • 1
    One thing to note is that with vaping, as mentioned elsewhere, you can lower the nicotine dose until it is not there any more, which removes the actual chemical addiction and allows the addict to just deal with the habit of the smoking sensation. – Tim Dec 7 '17 at 15:19
  • @Tim Hi Tim yes this is true, although it is possible to cut down on cigarettes in a similar way. Both require willpower. That said appreciate your comment and have upvoted because I admit as a non-smoker I don't see much distinction between smoking and vaping from the addiction angle. I don't understand why anyone would want to breathe anything but fresh air! – Astralbee Dec 8 '17 at 15:30
  • "The good news seems to be that she has quit before - or she says she has. If that is true then she can do it again." I'll gloss over the suggested accusation of lying here (apparently baseless) and just say that your deduction is unsound too. It's much, much worse on subsequent attempts because you remember how you enjoyed starting up again. Seems to me that you perhaps have not experienced this journey yourself. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 25 '18 at 21:54
1

"You know how important it is to me that you could be healthier. I care about you. I also understand how difficult it is to change smoking habits, and I'm willing to keep helping you as much as I can to make it easier for you"

Your disappointment is never expressed directly, but your intentions and motives are clear, which also make it clear that not participating in the effort is going to disappoint you.

By expressing it like that, you focus on the future instead of blaming for the past.


From my personal experience

Any habit is composed of:

  • a trigger (could be anxiety)
  • a ritual (smoking)
  • a reward (feeling relaxed)

The key to change is to identify the trigger, to change the ritual, but most important of all, to keep the reward

It took me 23 years of trying to stop cracking my knuckles unsuccessfully, until I read about the science behind habits. I simply tried to understand what was my reward (a sense of relaxation in the hands), and simply forced myself to feel the same reward after simply tapping my fingers on the table.

For smoking, one could simply go out, replace smoking by a similar breathing exercise, then try experiencing the same relaxation as after having smoked.

It also makes complete sense: if you experience the same reward, then the ritual doesn't matter much.

In doubt, read "the power of habit" (or audiobook if you're as lazy as I am)

You might want to try and explain this to her, see if she is open to trying this as well.

1

I smoked for thirty years. Nothing would help me to stop, if I got patches then I smoked with them too. One day my eight year old daughter got up from her seat in the car and cried out 'dad you are going to die' She was absolutely distressed. I did not notice the smoke billowing out of the window or the ash everywhere in the car.

The next day I tried not smoking for one day, then carried on not smoking day by day. There were no other things to stop me but my wish to stay with my family, and my thoughts about my daughter. That was twelve years ago. For the first year I did not trust myself but in the second year I began to believe that I had done it. The rest of my story is history.

First thing to be aware of is that I had a life and was supported whilst I was smoking - with no criticism of me. This is a very important aspect, because if you make your relationship about Alice giving up, and keep on about it then eventually you or her will choose to go your own way. So firstly stop the nagging.

Secondly for someone to stop they just have to want to do it. Nobody else can influence them. Alice needs a reason to stop - it may be an interest in sport, running, swimming or competing. Or it may be wishing to still be around in twenty years time. Your mission is to find that reason, or you can find the reason together - but stop treating her as if she is acting wrongly or does not do what she says that she will do. Smoking is the most difficult thing to get rid of.

Put up with everything until the day comes that Alice has found her reason. Support her on her journey because if the reason is not real she will go back to smoking again. Be prepared for that. This is the way that by getting your mind right you will be able to stay with Alice for ever.

There is no other way but to decide yourself if you are going to support Alice or not.

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