Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Encouraging your Partner to Stop Smoking

QUESTION: My partner and I both stopped smoking when I was pregnant. Recently, during a particularly stressful time, my husband started smoking again. I am very concerned about the effect of second hand smoke on our baby. How can I encourage and support him in breaking this addiction once and for all?

ANSWER: You are right to be worried about the effects of second hand smoke on your baby. Certainly, there is good motivation for breaking this addiction at this time. Many parents do kick this habit when children arrive on the scene.

Smoking is an attempt to soothe yourself. The nicotine substance becomes physically addicting because it is correlated with relaxing and letting go of tension. The smoker can become emotionally dependent on smoking to relieve psychological stress. To successfully stop smoking other methods of soothing yourself and coping must be found.

Increased awareness of what makes a person vulnerable to smoking and learning new ways to cope with life stress makes relapse less likely. Whatever the causes, the following three questions can be effective in helping your partner construct his own chart of triggers, desired goals and new actions. Creating this self help chart will identify vulnerability and healthier alternatives to smoking when the desire to smoke arises.

  1. What is the trigger?
    Identify the emotional feelings and incidents that precede a desire to smoke. (Anxiety, anger, sadness, low self-esteem, feeling penned in, or hopelessness brought on by a perceived event or incident, such as, a fight with your spouse, a criticism in your job review, a stressful traffic commute, etc.) Identify time periods in the day that you are most vulnerable to wanting to smoke. (end of the day after work, after a meal or first thing in the morning)

  2. What do you hope to achieve by smoking?
    Identify the desired goal, such as relaxation, escape from conflict and/or comfort.

  3. What is a new way to get there?
    Identify new actions in lieu of smoking.

    Example: Relaxation and unwinding (goal) after a hard day at work (trigger): New actions: physical exercise, meditation, watching television, listening to music, reading or other alternatives

    Example: Escape from the conflict with your spouse (goal) after a heated argument (trigger): New actions: learn better communication skills, seek counseling to help resolve problems, schedule time for discussion rather than waiting for it to erupt, or other methods for successfully addressing, rather than avoiding marital issues

    Example: Comfort and soothing yourself, (goal) following disappointment (trigger): New actions: talking about your disappointment with others, seeking comfort from others in the form of emotional support and soothing yourself with a hot bath, music or other special treatment.

Keep in mind that when addiction is a persistent part of a person's lifestyle it is often because the overall balance of life is askew. A life pattern of all work and no play, or a habit of caring for others before taking care of yourself can cause stress to be accumulated instead of released on a daily basis. Pay attention to the overall balance of relaxation, pleasure, work and play in your husband's daily, weekly and monthly schedule. Bring his attention to any imbalances you perceive that he may be unable to identify.

It is likely that a special effort to introduce new coping skills and a change in your husband's perspective on life, is necessary. Relaxation training, meditation programs, support groups or the development of new interests, such as marital arts or yoga that teach a philosophy of healthy life balance and skills to maintain it, may be in order.

One common reason for repeated failure to kick this habit is the presence of an underlying depression. When the major effect of nicotine is to stimulate a person out of melancholy or hopelessness, additional treatment is needed to address underlying depression and alternative means of coping with stress. In these cases, individual, group treatment and an appropriate antidepressant can make the difference between building healthier ways of coping or relapse.

Let your husband know you are on his side and that you want to join with him in the war to kick this habit. Perhaps he will find that depending on you for comfort, help and emotional support is part of the answer.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com