The worst kind of reformed smoker
I am the worst kind of reformed smoker.
You know, the reformed smoker who starts to cough when there’s even a faint whiff, the annoying reformed smoker who puts her hand over her face to avoid smelling smoky breath, the holier-than-thou reformed smoker who tuts and raises her eyebrows if she sees the smoker with a cigarette in hand.
I am the worst kind of reformed smoker…
…but only when it’s my partner who’s smoking.
Is there some habit that your partner or a loved one has that makes you feel sad or angry?
Or that perhaps goes even further, and consumes you? Maybe they drink too much, eat too much, don’t eat enough, don’t exercise properly, work too hard? Maybe they’ve been really sick but they still don’t take care of themselves?
Maybe they smoke… and you don’t.
If so, does it sometimes feel – in some, distorted way – like a direct attack on you?
Or is it just me?
Over the years (yes, years!), when I have been the most angry (yes, angry!), I have felt that my partner has made this choice just to rebel against me and laugh in my face. Put like that, I realise this is ridiculous… and extreme. But sometimes you can’t help how you feel. (Or if you can, then this is the work to do first – recognising how you feel so you can go on to make changes, right?) Mostly, I have just felt, quite often, that my partner doesn’t care about me. Because he smokes.
I justify it to myself that I have good reason.
Never a Good Reason to Nag
But there’s never a good enough reason to give your partner a hard time. So I’ve had enough. This is the last time I will play the martyr. I’m fed up with carrying all this resentment and slinging those passive aggressive punches.
I need to let go. This is a Big Thing for me to do. Because nagging my partner to stop smoking is one of my Bad Habits (and you know how hard bad habits are to kick!).
So first, I’m trying really hard to understand the ‘whys’, and then, the next time I hear my judgey voice creeping into my head, I’ll turn the tables and look at myself. I’ll see how I can work on Me, instead of offering advice to Him.
And as we’re here, for a final time, I’m going to get my ‘reasons to nag’ off my chest.
Reasons I want my partner to stop smoking
- The biggest reason, and the one I claim (in the self-righteous way that I’m not proud of) to be The Reason: It is bad for your health. And if this has always been the main reason, it has really come into its own since 2015. He spent a couple of months in hospital – where, apart from other things, he couldn’t breathe properly (this wasn’t smoking-related, by the way) – and he was taught to breathe again with fancy apparatus (or rather, a plastic contraption featuring faces in various stages of amusement – ranging from not very happy at all, to absolutely-blooming-delighted depending on his puffing ability). He was discharged with one lung permanently damaged, and the other one although also damaged, still with a chance of full recovery. I kind of presumed that he would never smoke again after that… I was wrong.
So that’s it. Purely for health reasons, I want my partner to stop smoking.
- It sets a bad example for the kids.
- It stinks. Our sense of smell is pretty important in relationships… Enough said.
- It costs money. I resent the fact that our money is spent on something that is harming him and harming us.
- This one turns the focus from him to me (and other people like medical professionals, family and friends). It is bad for his health but it is others – mostly me – who have to pick up the pieces when this impacts. A visit to the doctor’s with a nasty cough leads to an emergency visit to the hospital which leads to lots of tests and worrying and hanging around and expense and time spent on the road and in the hospital and not doing other things. I begrudge this. I worry about him still, but there is an undercurrent of resentment. And I really don’t like feeling this. It’s not a noble or nice emotion to have, but there it is and I’ve said it.
I found this diary the other day and was shocked to realise how little has changed in 13 years.
Diary extract – October 2006
I have decided to adopt a new attitude regarding G’s smoking habit. Here it is.
It is a good thing because:
- I can ask him to do things like go to the shops and he will welcome the time out to have a fag, therefore, do jobs that I don’t want to do and I won’t have to nag him to do them. (2019: Get that for twisted logic!)
- We will have more time apart – periods short enough to not miss him but long enough to get a little space. (2019: really scraping the barrel there.)
- He may well die sooner but that’s okay. It’s not really of course, but try and concentrate on the bright side. It will give me the opportunity to see what life is like after G… I’m sure I will be a stronger single person for having spent so much time with him and having him strengthen me. (2019: I have no words except to say that at least this shows that my ‘real’ worry lies here: I believe that if he continues to smoke, he’s going to die sooner, and I don’t want him to.)
This is all absolute bull but I’m going to try and stick to believing it so I don’t feel unhappy every time I get a whiff of disgusting smoke on him or hear him not be able to breathe properly or cough…
Back to today – 13 years later
I met up with a good friend that I’ve known for years but haven’t seen for perhaps four. Within the first five minutes of our conversation, for some reason I’d mentioned my partner’s smoking habit.
‘He’s never going to stop smoking,’my friend replied with a smile.
I was shocked when I realised what I’d just done. Why was the fact that my partner still smokes one of the most important things to tell a friend I haven’t seen for so long? How did that topic beat breakdowns, illness and the death of loved ones? How did it trump babies, house moves and career changes?
I’m not proud of myself.
Why is smoking so annoying for a non-smoking partner?
Maybe you have a different ‘thing’ that annoys you in a loved one, but smoking is a good ‘un because not only do you see it, but you also smell it. It’s invasive, pervasive.
The thing between us – Make it go away
And it’s an addiction. So if you’re a non-smoker, with a partner who smokes, there’s always going to be ‘someone else’ (the need for the next fag) in the space with you.
For some reason, I thought for a long time that my disapproving behaviour would somehow ‘make’ him stop smoking.
We’ve had all the conversations.
We’ve had the, ‘You don’t nag Fred to stop smoking. How come you don’t care about him doing it?’ conversation. (Answer: ‘Sorry… but isn’t it obvious? It’s none of my business what Fred gets up to.’)
And it’s true. It is absolutely none of my business. Who am I to judge Fred? But then, who do I think I am to judge G and his habits? Aren’t I supposed to be the one supporting him the most? His ‘partner’?
‘Anyway, I don’t live with Fred.’My little effort at ‘touché’!
But then round and round we’ll go. I want the best for him. Even he doesn’t want to smoke so I’m supporting him with my disapproval. He gets fed up and goes out to… have a fag.
Because really, the more you nag, the harder it gets. More to the point, it’s not good for me. Who wants to spend their life worrying about somebody else’s behaviour? And if you’re focusing your energy on trying to change somebody else, it’s easy to avoid taking a good look at yourself and what might need tweaking – or radically changing – in your own behaviour!
Let’s look at a few, just a few, facts about smoking
According to the Australian Government Department of Health, smoking ‘is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in Australia.’
‘Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for nearly 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease,’the UK National Health Service agree.
At school and in my fiercely anti-smoking home, we were taught about the dangers of lighting up. There was a lot of shame and disdain attached to it.
I entered a competition as part of an education campaign at school and painted a man wearing clothes with A LOT of pockets. He was smoking and had packets of cigarettes spilling out of these multiple pockets. His tee-shirt read ‘Dressed to Kill’. Clever eh?
I won a packet of coloured pencils.
I kind of felt bad about it, because I kind of cheated. I ‘stole’ the idea from a fancy dress competition at Butlin’s holiday camp where I’d seen somebody dressed just like this, holding a banner with the same phrase. (If the winner is reading this – Filey, 1981ish? – I owe you (shall we say half?) a packet of Lakeland pencils!)
There: I feel a little lighter for that – thank you for listening!
How fast are you burning your life away?
One ‘fact’ I learned at school about smoking always stuck. ‘Every cigarette you smoke takes 10 minutes from your life’. Really? With hindsight, and no matter the dangers of smoking, this now seems hard to believe.
So I just looked it up and this is what I found. I’m quoting from the BBC News website, but there are many other articles with the same information.
‘Scientists have calculated that each cigarette cuts on average 11 minutes off the life of a male smoker.
The calculation, published in the British Medical Journal, is based on the difference in life expectancy between male smokers and non-smokers and an estimate of the total number of cigarettes a regular male smoker might consume in a lifetime.’
Although the article goes on to say that these are crude calculations based on averages, it also states that smokers are likely to be ill for longer while they are alive, and have more painful deaths.
So it’s actually worse than I’d thought.
But guess what, smoking is not the only thing that is bad for your health. Stress also has a huge effect on your health and happiness. Worrying about somebody else, and nagging them, is stressful. And it doesn’t make you happy either!
And then there’s this…
New health crisis – Loneliness
We are social animals and loneliness has recently been termed as the new health epidemic.
According to some statistics, and for example, in research carried out by Professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad, loneliness and social isolation are as dangerous for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
I get lonely sometimes.
If you do the maths, that means that while you are lonely, every day you are reducing your life expectancy by… two-and-a-half hours!
As I said in my article on four lessons I learned from therapy, worrying about other people is a great way of taking ‘the focus off my responsibility towards myself and my own wellbeing.’
Time for a shift in perspective.
How to support somebody with a habit that’s harmful to their health
- Don’t pass comment unless you’re asked to (or unless there’s a very good reason to).
- Recognise that it’s their right to live as they choose to.
- Offer – without pushing – an alternative focus (for example, if you sometimes practise yoga together, or go for walks in nature, suggest that).
- Put a record on that you both love. Ask for a dance. Initiate a cuddle. Human touch is therapeutic.
- Remember that human beings are complicated creatures. We often don’t act in ways to best support our own selves, even if we want to. Show compassion.
- Love them a little bit more.
How to support yourself when a loved one has a habit which is harmful to their health
- Recognise your thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge them and know that they are valid. Let yourself feel them and examine them – but hopefully, as you practise this technique, this part will become less painful and last for less time.
- Remind yourself that these feelings are no longer serving you. They are not helping your relationships. Release the thoughts and feelings.
- Shift your focus onto yourself. What do you need right now? What can you do to make yourself feel better and more loved?
- Do this thing… it could simply be having a cup of tea and taking a few moments to clear your head. It could be a bath, a run, reading a magazine or baking a cake. If you don’t have time, plan something in for yourself.
- Congratulate yourself for moving forwards and releasing yourself from destructive thought patterns.
- Love yourself a little bit more.
And for anyone trying to change any habit, it’s really helpful to focus on the benefits. Don’t focus on what you’re giving up, but rather on what you are gaining.
What about the kids?
As for the kids, instead of telling myself he’s a bad example for them, I need to focus on all the positives he brings into their lives (which I do anyway), as well as work on myself being a good example.
Children need to know that we are all human, faults and all. The silver lining here could be that they are learning what addiction is. They have heard their father say he’ll stop smoking. We have both explained (yes, even me, in my more understanding moments) that daddy wants to give up, but that it is very difficult if you are addicted to something like nicotine. They can show compassion for addicts. I hope they learn and grow from it.
And of course I hope it will put them off smoking themselves.
You can quit if you want to
If you’re a smoker and wish to quit, it’s not easy. But people do quit. I did, because I really really wanted to. And if I can, you can.
Just get as much help as possible (and tell the people that are nagging – because they love you, by the way – that it really doesn’t count as help).
Quit that Nagging Habit
But now there’s a different habit I need to quit.
I have to extinguish my many years’ worth of resentment aimed at my partner for his smoking habit. So I’m putting my red heels on, like Sandy from Grease, and treading it out like she killed that cigarette butt.
The old pattern of nagging is a hard habit to break but I’m giving it my best shot.
Wish me luck! For all our sakes.
Do you relate at all? Do you concentrate on trying to change somebody else instead of looking after yourself?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
All photos: Eilidh Horder.