Sex advice: my husbandís smoking puts me off him

The Times
24 January 2009

Suggest practical solutions and there is a strong chance he will listen

Q My husband has taken up smoking again. It puts me off him and I donít want to sleep with him. He thinks that Iím trying to starve him of sex so that he will give up smoking, but I really canít bear the smell. He was a smoker when we first met and it didnít bother me then. He has been under a lot of pressure at work and I have tried to sympathise, but I canít understand why he wants cigarettes more than me.

A There are some practical things you should do to minimise the horrible smell. First, put your foot down about smoking in the house and if he wonít agree to take his habit outside, make him confine his smoking to the least-used room. Remove all ashtrays and ask him to use a separate bin for smoking material. To freshen the rest of the house, hoover carpets, spray all furniture and fabrics with Febreze and leave the windows open as much as possible. You could also buy an air purifier. The Bionaire BAP412 has a Hepa filter that removes up to 99.97 per cent of all airborne pollution, allergens, smoke and odours (, £79.99).

With regard to sex, if you both want it there is no reason why he canít take a shower, wash his hair, brush his teeth and use mouthwash and cologne beforehand. But, in reality, I suspect that you would be having sexual difficulties even if he smelt of freshly cut roses because the real issue is that you believe he is choosing cigarettes over your sexual relationship. His decision to resume smoking is an obvious problem with an obvious cause (stress) and obvious solution (quitting), but the conflict will not be resolved unless you change the way that you approach the issue.

Research shows that only 31 per cent of continuing disagreements in relationships are about issues that can be fixed and 69 per cent of the time couples argue about unresolvable or perpetual problems. This suggests that it is not what couples argue about that counts, but how they tackle the arguments.

Studies into how couples communicate have proved that when a dialogue about one of these issues begins negatively, 96 per cent of the time it is never turned around. And because 80 per cent of conflict discussions in heterosexual relationships are initiated by women, the tone that you choose to instigate discussions about his smoking almost entirely determines the outcome of the conversation.

Itís very simple really. Attack your husband about the way his smoking makes you feel and he will shut down, but empathise with his triggers and suggest solutions and there is a strong chance that he will listen. Of smokers, 66 per cent say that they want to give up, so your husband probably wants to quit anyway.

Smoking kills; everyone knows that. But the problem is, in the short term, it really does make smokers feel better. The physical process of having a cigarette is a kind of time out from dealing with stress, but nicotine is also a stimulant that causes the brain to release chemicals that affect mood in much the same way as certain antidepressant medications. Only your husband can make the choice to quit, but if he is under a lot of pressure it is unlikely that he will be able to do so without help. Studies of former smokers show that 70 per cent of people who start smoking again say that their first cigarette was a direct response to stress, so for your husband to give up while things are still difficult will require great willpower and a lot of support from you.


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