My boyfriend is quitting cigarettes. How do I stop wanting to kill him?
July 20, 2012 9:45 PM   Subscribe

I love my dear boyfriend but he can be trying at the best of times - his last cigarette was 5 days ago. How do I deal with the irritable ass he has become and please tell me that this is temporary.

I'm trying to get through to him that he is, uh, behaving quite differently, but he doesn't seem to believe me. I think that part might be getting better though. My questions are:

a) When does this end?!?!?!?!! Does it end? (please say yes) I want my boyfriend back :(
b) I was a big proponent of his quitting, so now that it's happening how do I remain supportive while putting aside the urge to strangle him? He doesn't seem to know what he needs when I've asked.
c) How have your loved ones been unobtrusively helpful while you were quitting smoking? For reference he was at just under a pack a day and seems to have quit cold turkey.
d) What are some awesome side effects I can look forward to now that he's quit?

Oh and I realize that he is the one doing all the hard work here but seriously I'm like this close to homicide.

This is of course assuming it sticks, but here's for hoping.

Thanks y'all.
posted by krakenattack to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Oh and I've read this thread, so. And he had started reading that book everyone recommends and I try to encourage him to finish it but I don't know.
posted by krakenattack at 9:48 PM on July 20, 2012

This is definitely one of those "be careful what you wish for" moments.

His grouchiness should end in a couple weeks. Your best tactic is to distract him whenever he gets edgy. How you distract him will be unique to your circumstances and his interests.
posted by Ardiril at 9:50 PM on July 20, 2012

a) it's only been five days. It will end, but it will take a few weeks.
b) keep repeating what you just said - you wanted this, it's the best thing for both of you, and the best decision isn't always easy. You need to work through this together. His outward annoyingness is showing you how terrible he's feeling on the inside - consider this.
c) NA!
d) weight gain and perhaps some relapses into smoking that he'll try to hide, which may bring up trust issues.

Perhaps disengage at times you know he's doing poorly. If he's especially snappish until he gets his coffee, wait until after the coffee to say good morning, or something.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:52 PM on July 20, 2012

a) He'll be fine, in time. I forget exactly how long, but a short enough time span that you'll forget how long it took.

b) Just leave him alone.

c) Just leave him alone.

d) He will probably have senses of smell and taste again and suddenly start to notice how yellow the walls are and how gross smoking is, in general.

In terms of being "this close to homicide", my advice would be to go find your own fun thing to concentrate on for the next month or so.
posted by Sara C. at 9:53 PM on July 20, 2012

It will pass, I promise.

Do everything you can to be supportive and patient so it'll stick, because if it doesn't, the two of you are just going to have to go through it all over again. And yeah, go find your own fun thing to concentrate on, too.
posted by Specklet at 9:55 PM on July 20, 2012

I'll stick to b and c:

b) Choose to overlook his irritability instead of responding/escalating. Easier said than done, I know. Walk away if you have to. And whatever your version of "Babe, you're doing great" and "I'm so proud of you" from time to time couldn't hurt.

c) Check out this article. If you do a Google search for "how to help a loved one quit smoking" there are others. Also, from personal experience, these cinnamon/tea tree oil/mint toothpicks help.

Good luck to you both!
posted by Majorita at 11:22 PM on July 20, 2012

Just under a pack a day? That sound like me before I quit.

When I was smoking, I knew cigarettes smelled bad, but I didn't know how just how gross they actually were to other people. And I didn't know how gross I smelled. As your boyfriend quits smoking, he'll slowly begin to realize that too. But right now you should tell him how awesome he smells. Comment on how improved his musk is.

Seriously. If he's like me, then he probably already knows that smoking smells awful. Having a woman tell him that he smells great will just be more encouragement give up those cancer sticks.
posted by mcmile at 11:24 PM on July 20, 2012

Oh, god. When I quit smoking 11 years ago--cold turkey from around two packs a day--I became a hellbeast. I'm normally a pretty even-tempered person; my anger style tends towards the "quietly seething" rather than the "screaming and throwing things" end of the spectrum. In those first few weeks, though, (yes, sorry, I said weeks) I was like a toddler throwing foot-stompy tantrums on a regular basis.

The tantrum analogy is pretty apt, really. I realized that I used smoking as a means of coping with (well, sublimating) emotions, and everything felt very raw. Like a toddler, I was completely unregulated, and it took me a while to learn to deal with everything without the crutch of nicotine and the comforting companionship of my cigarettes.

It will get better. Really. I was luck to have at the time an infinitely patient partner who didn't take my crappy behavior personally, and handled my careening emotions with as much equanimity as anyone could hope for. (Honestly, I don't think I'd have handled it quite as well had the positions been reversed, but that's not really helpful for you.) He retreated to his favorite hobbies as needed, so I nth the advice to find things to immerse yourself in and forget the toddler in the other room when you can.
posted by Superplin at 11:32 PM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

It seems like for most people somewhere between the end of week 1 and the end of week 2 the bad obsession phase starts to back off and with it the attendant mood extremes. He is probably about at the peak. There is not much you can do, not engaging to the greatest extent feasible is probably the wisest (and appropriate since this is not actually directed at you, you're just in its way). To help him avoid at all costs any intimation that it feels "not worth it" because of his attitude: he's an addict and some part of him is looking for excuses to fall off.

If it doesn't take you might encourage him to try something like nicotine replacement the next time. The patch did relative wonders for my mood issues.

Side effects... smelling so much better all the time, saving thousands of dollars a year, getting sick less often and getting better faster when he does, not having to manage this drug habit in the increasingly smoke free world (having to exit the restaurant between courses, figure out where you can go out and smoke at the airport after you've checked in, etc., ad nauseum). Not burning little holes in things. Sleeping better and generally having more energy. Of course there's that cancer thing...
posted by nanojath at 11:51 PM on July 20, 2012

I kind of hate that I'm going to relate such woo, but it works for me when I'm on the wagon, is that quitting smoking works in units of 3: 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, etc. are the hard times.
posted by rhizome at 1:38 AM on July 21, 2012

Benadryl can help take the edge off if he doesn't want to use nicotine based aids. You can take some too, I did.

Yes it does end, try to focus on doing things that don't trigger a strong cigarette urge. For example if he would light up every time he got in the car to drive, either you drive or avoid driving.

Learning to do things without smoking that normally were done with smoking are the hardest part. For example my husband would worry that he won't enjoy spending time at the beach or watching a sunset as much as before because he normally would have a cigarette while doing those things.

Pick up a new hobby that will be immensely easier now that he doesn't smoke (i.e. biking / hiking), and doesn't have the action of smoking while doing it attached to it.

Good luck! It is worth it.
posted by effigy at 7:49 AM on July 21, 2012

Also, when the cravings get bad can go somewhere you are not ALLOWED to smoke and will take up some time and provides active distraction, like a movie theater.
posted by effigy at 7:50 AM on July 21, 2012

If it's the first time he's even tried to quit, go easy on him. Nicotine is an unforgiving bitch of a mistress, and baseless rage during withdrawal is part of it. Your brain keeps going, "Why are you doing this to me?"
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2012

The thing that worked for my wonderful wife, who quit after smoking more than your boyfriend, was to break the time down into manageable chunks: Once you wake up in the morning, can you go without a smoke until after you eat? Once you've eaten, can you go without until you get to work? Now you have to make it to lunchtime.. that's harder but still doable. Just concentrate on the next few hours, don't think about never smoking again. After 3 weeks the cravings start to decline. After a month you're pretty much out of the woods.

Also, you can probably look forward to a boyfriend who's generally happier, less moody, snappish, irritable, or subject to outbursts once he's off the nicotine. My wife is WAY calmer and happier now that she quit - those white sticks were under her skin all the time beforehand.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:57 AM on July 21, 2012

Also, you can probably look forward to a boyfriend who's generally happier, less moody, snappish, irritable, or subject to outbursts once he's off the nicotine. My wife is WAY calmer and happier now that she quit - those white sticks were under her skin all the time beforehand.

Yeah, this. What was amazing to me (and probably another cause of the tantrums) was how much extra energy I had after I quit. I had no idea how much effort I put into thinking about smoking (Can I smoke here? If not, when will I be able to have another cigarette? Do I have enough on hand? Should I get more just in case? Is it too soon to light up again? etc.)

It was a constant interior monologue and low-grade but persistent source of stress in my life that I wasn't even aware of until it was gone. After which, I was so much calmer, and had so much more mental and physical energy to do stuff, it was pretty amazing.
posted by Superplin at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2012

but seriously I'm like this close to homicide.

Not to diminish how you're feeling, or to chastise you, but whatever you might be feeling is a thousandfold worse for him and he's probably feeling that way all the time. I used to get so mad I would vibrate at a certain frequency that left me feeling like I was going to explode, like an overfilled flesh balloon filled with blood, over the littlest things. It was like whomever was at the helm controlling my emotions had gone on strike and there was no way to prevent a meltdown. I hated every minute of it because it made me miserable, I didn't want to feel that way.

or subject to outbursts once he's off the nicotine.

Have to realize part of what is going on is he rewired his brain by increasing the number of receptors to accommodate the uptick in hormones each cigarette produced. Now that the only fix he gets is produced in house he has a gazillion hungry receptors clamouring for what little hormone there is; those extra receptors ain't happy and won't be for a long time to come. He's also at an elevated risk of becoming depressed over the next few months.

And the thing about quitting is not only are you having to deal with all your triggers, which aren't nearly as cut and dry like that after dinner smoke They and Them like to tell you about, but you're also having to deal with emotions you didn't realize you had been stuffing down for years with nicotine. He's probably finding virtually everything is a trigger at this point and is very irritable, but once he finds ways to self sooth and find other behaviours to replace cigarettes things will get easier. It took me about four months to get there with the occasional meltdown.

This is of course assuming it sticks, but here's for hoping.

Only 5 to 7% of people who quit stay quit for a full year and many don't succeed the first time they try. Or the second, third ... I'm five months in to my first attempt hoping I don't have to go through this awfulness again.

All you can do is give it time. Support him despite wanting to wring his neck and if he chews gum see if you can't get cinnamon toothpicks, clove gum, or beechnut gum because after awhile you can get really sick of anything minty. If he smoked inside he's probably going to notice the smell of cigarettes soon so you might want to add some incense to the mix.
posted by squeak at 12:43 PM on July 21, 2012

My dad once told me that when he quit smoking, his commanding officer came this close to ordering him to go back to smoking. But he did get better!
posted by telophase at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2012

Is he open to nicotine replacement? That turned me from a raging hellbeast to a simpering hellpuppy.
posted by kamikazegopher at 1:11 PM on July 21, 2012

See if there's something he really, really wants that is of equivalent value to the money he spend on cigarettes. Use that as a giant carrot.

For instance, my roommate desperately wants a particular handgun, so if he doesn't smoke for 30 days, he'll have the money to buy the handgun. $200 a month makes for a pretty nice carrot.

I tried being helpful during his previous attempts and I've discovered it's best to just let him do it and treat it like life as normal. Too much attention drawn to it, positive or negative, feels like pressure and may lead him to sneak smoking so you think he's doing better than he is, which leads to guilt, etc. Don't make a big deal if he backslides.

I yell, "Hey, not acceptable!" at my roommate if he has an anger outburst. He can go yell or whatever outside but I don't like that edgy feeling of having a cursing person in my space. I tell him so, and make him take it elsewhere. It's emotional pollution.
posted by griselda at 12:20 PM on July 23, 2012

I've tried quitting tons of times. Now that I'm dating a truly amazing wonderful girl (who isn't trying to force me to quit!) I'm taking it seriously and really trying to kick the habit. Heres what your guy needs:

-He needs to want it himself. I had 4 ex's who tried to "make" me quit. Eventually they became my ex's, not entirely for this reason, but it didnt help their case.

-Nic gum, the extra strong stuff. A nic craving is one where you can't think of anything else to do except smoke a cig... you can't work, be nice to your SO, talk to your family, etc. because its just on the very front of your mind. If you can put it out of your mind somehow, the slightest reminder brings it back full force. Chewing a 4mg Nic gum rushes the nic into your system and quenches the craving, and chewing the gum for an hour or so keeps it down.

-Don't freak out if he falls off the wagon, and make sure he's comfortable being honest with you. My girlfriend praised how good I was doing quitting, and I told her I still smoke 2-3 a day at work, so don't praise me yet. But then she said "yeah but if you are able to not smoke after work, thats still good progress." I felt like she was working with me and supporting me, as opposed to past GFs who would accuse me of my shirt smelling like smoke or some petty crap like that. Resentment in spades.

-The advice of breaking your day into smoke-less chunks is really good, but not very good for when you slip and then rationalize that since you slipped, you can smoke the rest of the day care-free (amazing how a smokers brain convinces us to smoke more)

-It helped me to get serious about an exercise regimen to stop smoking, and using that to inspire myself during the day. I started running every other day, and once my legs and ankles got strong enough to ride, the point of failure was my lungs. I realized I'd never improve my distance if I had to stop to wheeze every 15 minutes, and at that point its easy to see that theres only a single thing holding you back.

-Drinking juice and eating fruits/veggies helps because he won't want to smoke afterwards (as opposed to spicy food or any other meal, where the natural reaction is to smoke a cig afterwards)

I know this is centered around you coping with your BFs mood, but you gotta realize just how much it sucks for him. You can't just "not smoke" like everyone who has never smoked thinks. You can't get out of bed without it, can't fall asleep without it, don't feel hungry, don't feel horny, etc. You get so crazy and depressed that eventually you say "why bother anymore" and buy another pack. I've run that cycle far too many times.
posted by el_yucateco at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2012

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