Spouse quit smoking--but I'm skeptical
October 7, 2017 5:46 AM   Subscribe

This is the nth time my husband has quit smoking. I'd be very proud of him EXCEPT he's lied to me before--it turns out that he's smoked several times during the times he allegedly quit. Friends and relatives have confirmed this to me. It makes me upset knowing he lied to me during those times.

I'm tired of being lied to. I have a lot of anxiety over this; we both have family members who died from smoking-related cancers.

How do I handle this? Just let it go? Trust he's not lying to me this time? He's away from the house a lot, and it makes me wonder what he's actually doing during that time.

Do I talk to him about this again? We've spoken about this once since he quit. I was not as accepting and loving as I could have been--the discussion was full of my anger and resentment that he's lied to me in the past.

If I should relax and let it go, what do I do with this pent-up anxiety? I am having trouble managing my emotions over this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total)
If he was lying to you about something else, would you feel differently? By that I mean, would you be more upset about being lied to for any other reason than smoking/quitting smoking? Relapsing when quitting smoking is normal, but lying about it is never necessary.
posted by marimeko at 6:02 AM on October 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

(The anxiety is because you are being lied to).
posted by marimeko at 6:04 AM on October 7, 2017

(I'm assuming, though perhaps I shouldn't be, that he doesn't habitually lie.)

Is this a deal-breaker for you? I mean, if you knew now that he would never successfully quit smoking would you leave him? If the answer is no, I would leave him alone about it. He knows it might kill him. He knows you want him to quit. What else is there to say?

Quitting smoking is the hardest thing I've ever done. I tried to quit several times before it took. If I had to manage my spouse's expectations about it on top of everything else, I am not sure I could have done it.

Give yourself permission to let this be his problem. Not yours. Maybe that will relieve some of your anxiety.
posted by lyssabee at 6:41 AM on October 7, 2017 [36 favorites]

My mom's take on this was always that if my Dad wasn't smoking at home, he was smoking way less than he otherwise would have been, so that was an improvement, even if it wasn't cold turkey. Eventually he actually quit, but it took decades of starts and stops and "I'm just going for a walk" from a guy who had never in his life gone for a recreational walk.

The lying sucks and it's not wrong to be upset by it, but you can also see it as him not wanting to disappoint you or admit his weakness in this area. It's not a lie that's about betraying you, it's a lie about protecting you or protecting him.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:00 AM on October 7, 2017 [15 favorites]

I'm not saying you don't have a right to be angry about the lying, but it's not going to help him quit. I would give him permission to be honest with you about his relapses. Does he really want to quit? What are his motivations - health, money? It will be very hard for him if he is doing it for you, not him.

For my ex, it was a dealbreaker, but I knew this within the first few weeks of dating and I wanted to go out with him more than I wanted to smoke. If smoking (or the lying) is a dealbreaker to you then tell him that, but make sure you're telling the truth to yourself first, because empty threats will cause more problems.

I had anxiety with my ex over things he was doing, and the only thing that helped was keeping busy with unrelated activities so I wasn't focused on policing him. Make yourself and your life the best it can be - usually when we're anxious about another person it's because we're not happy with ourselves. Also read some books about codependency to help you realize you can't control another person.
posted by AFABulous at 7:34 AM on October 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

but lying about it is never necessary

However, it may be a rational choice if telling the truth is just going to bring on some major, judgemental scene that is not going to help your husband actually quit smoking—a notoriously difficult addiction to break.

My mom's take on this was always that if my Dad wasn't smoking at home, he was smoking way less than he otherwise would have been...

My mom also adopted this attitude.
posted by she's not there at 7:52 AM on October 7, 2017 [8 favorites]

Was he a smoker when you married him?

I know really, really well what it's like to watch a spouse struggle with a health issue. But this is his body and his choice. I think it is very reasonable for you to say, if you mean it "I don't want to invest decades with you and end up a widow early, so if you can't stop within 3 years I will have to move on."

But it's not okay to be The Smoke Police. Stop talking to him about it. He knows the facts.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:06 AM on October 7, 2017 [14 favorites]

How would you react if he told you he was smoking? Is he lying to keep the peace?

Addiction is tough. Addicts behave in ways they wouldn’t normally. Denial is strong— he may genuinely think these lapses don’t “count.” I know that’s insane but I also know if someone asked me if I was still binge-eating I’d say no even though I ate a bunch of candy last night.

Not saying you have to put up with the smoking or the lying, but this might be harder to control that you’re assuming.
posted by kapers at 11:33 AM on October 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

My mom's take on this was always that if my Dad wasn't smoking at home, he was smoking way less than he otherwise would have been...

My mom also adopted this attitude.

My wife also felt this way when I secretly snuck* cigarettes after quitting.

* Of course she knew. How could she not?
posted by bradf at 11:39 AM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Going forward, I would outwardly support but inwardly not hold him to his statements about quitting. This takes you off the hook a bit— if you know he might be smoking, you don’t have to wonder. And you can tell him, look, I know this is really hard, I’m not the quitting police, you don’t have to hide your backsliding from me, you don’t have to confess it either, just don’t lie.

I don’t think it would be an overreaction to get your anxiety addressed— spouses of addicts have common issues regardless of the substance and you deserve some attention for your problems, too!
posted by kapers at 11:43 AM on October 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

Quitting smoking is hard a shit. There's no excuse for lying about it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't or won't happen with otherwise reasonable and trustworthy people.

Be clear with him about your needs (no lying from him) and be supportive of his efforts (no judgement from you if he messes up), that will give him the best chance of actually quitting successfully.
posted by so fucking future at 11:51 AM on October 7, 2017

I think there are many reasons people lie about smoking during periods when they have outwardly declared that they've quit. Most of them... aren't personal to you. They're not lying to you in order to hurt you.

I tried to quit many times before I succeeded. When I was trying to quit but gave in and smoked, it was not me trying to get one over on someone. I felt like I'd failed and hid it from people because I was ashamed. I wasn't even trying to avoid a scene.
posted by RustyBrooks at 12:03 PM on October 7, 2017 [6 favorites]

I kind of don't feel that a person who is trying to give up smoking, and slips up and has a cigarette is lying lying at all, no more than I felt my sugar loving husband was lying to me when he kept secret cookies in the car during a time he was "cutting back on sugar". I mean, I care about his health, and he knows I care about his health, and beyond that, it's really up to him to do it or not.

Stopping smoking can be really hideous, and I think almost everyone, if not everyone, has lapses. When I stopped, I felt embarrassed and kind of ashamed when I slipped up, and not inclined to discuss it with anyone, and might have felt like I was having a difficult enough time without having to also manage someone else's feelings and disappointment over my mistake.
posted by glitter at 2:05 PM on October 7, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you think about this, why is he lying? He's lying because of his feelings of shame, and possibly guilt.

Does losing your shit when he relapses, reduce these feelings of shame, or increase them? I'm not blaming you for his lying, but you can probably see how your reaction may feed into a kind of spiral for him where the only way to avoid shame is to continue lying.
posted by smoke at 3:43 PM on October 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

Shame and judgement mostly just motivates people to hide things better in my experience. It sounds like the consequences for lying to you are less than the consequences for being open about smoking, at least in his mind. I would try to address that mindset for both of you, and make it so that this is something you're pulling together on. It's very difficult to give up ingrained habits, and doubly so when an addiction is involved, and making sure to cultivate an environment where honesty is rewarded and an occasional relapse is viewed more as a minor setback in light of overall progress made will go a long way towards making this work, I think.
posted by Aleyn at 5:00 PM on October 7, 2017

What glitter said and also, it may be that he wants to get over the slip as quickly as possible and still be taking the position that he is not smoking. There's a difference between a slip and a full-blown relapse. He may be afraid that if he tells you he smoked, he'll feel like he screwed up so he might as well just go back to smoking.
posted by BibiRose at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Friends and relatives have confirmed this to me.

shut that down. if they are eagerly noting down his errors to run and tattle to you, they need to be reminded they're not six years old. and if you are the instigator, questioning witnesses about what he ate or drank or smoked, you lose any righteous position you could have had and then some.

having a relapse now and then does not make his quitting into a lie. it's a normal part of quitting. How does he even have occasion to lie to you -- you don't ask him every day when he comes home whether he smoked that day, right? so is he doing the liar's overcompensation thing and just announcing it, like 'Boy what a day I had, got up at six to catch the bus and didn't smoke, had a late lunch with no smoking, and stopped at the store on the way home and definitely didn't smoke there either'? because that's weird and sure it would make a person mad, it's so unnecessary. people lie like that when they want to be caught.

but having a cigarette and not announcing it to you isn't a lie, it's a cigarette. a lie is a lie.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:45 PM on October 7, 2017 [5 favorites]

Nthing the other former smokers here - it takes several tries, slips are normal, and a judgmental attitude does not contribute to a supportive atmosphere. This isn't about a personal betrayal, it's about an extremely complex addiction that is one of the hardest habits to break of any known to human beings. Offer kindness, support, and patience. Expect slips. Don't judge, just support progress wherever you see it: getting through an evening out without a smoke, getting through a boring Sunday afternoon, not smoking while driving, whatever. Celebrate the victories, don't be a private investigator looking for the lapses.

There's research showing that a typical smoker who quits requires seven to nine attempts before a permanent attempt. It's okay if this isn't the last one. Each attempt teaches you more about what you'll need to know and do to make a better attempt next time. It's all progress. This is his battle. Let him fight it. What could you be working on yourself? I agree that treatment for anxiety is worth looking into. A difficult-to-control focus on other people's problems is certainly a symptom of anxiety that's becoming unmanageable.
posted by Miko at 5:31 AM on October 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Rather than quitting altogether and cold turkey, perhaps it might be worth investigating harm mitigating tobacco alternatives like Swedish snus.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:04 PM on October 8, 2017

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