My husband and I have been married for thirty years. Like most couples, our marriage has been tested. While we are deeply committed to each other, we have issues which have not been resolved. My husband’s smoking undermines our relationship on a daily basis. I have my own shortfalls, but generally they are not deadly.
I am a jealous wife. I hate my husband’s attachment to cigarettes. In some ways, they are more dangerous than an affair with another woman. Even his kisses taste of smoke. It is hard not to feel that he is more attached to his cigarettes than to me.
I have resisted writing about being married to a smoker. It is one thing to live with contradictions. It is another thing to air them publicly. My husband is a primary-care physician and feels a deep sense of shame about his smoking. He sneaks out of his office to have cigarettes during the day. He hides outside the employee entrance, but I am sure his patients can smell the smoke when he returns. While he advises them to quit smoking, he doesn’t follow his own advice. My husband leaves his medical education and training behind when it comes to lighting up.
I haven’t smoked for twenty seven years and have almost for-gotten the power of its addiction. I realize that my husband must decide for himself whether to quit smoking. It is counter productive for me to nag him, and I try not to do so. Nonetheless, from time to time I ask him to quit because there is nothing more important to me.
I know I am not alone in this struggle. Millions of Americans continue to smoke even though there is irrefutable evidence that it is potentially fatal and likely to cause serious harm to themselves and the ones they love.
Cigarettes are a dangerous intruder in our otherwise loving relationship. My husband has a “smoking den” in our finished basement. The smoke cannot be contained. Smoke wafts upstairs every time he opens the door. Whenever we go out, I cannot walk by his side because he immediately lights up a cigarette. Despite my attempt to protect myself, I must live with second-hand smoke.
I suffer from asthma when I have respiratory infections. My mother died from asthma-related complications at 54. I have had to face my own mortality and have tried to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Many of our family and friends are dealing with serious illness and death. I am angry that my husband continues to smoke knowing the risks.
Our younger son developed asthma when he was two years old. His allergist wrote to my husband explaining that our son was sick far more than children who do not live with smokers. None of this was news to my husband. But he is a smoker first and a parent second when it comes to his own smoking.
When I discovered that our older son smoked, I was devastated. I pleaded with my husband to share how smoking has damaged him personally and professionally. I prayed that this shocking development would spur my husband to quit and inspire our son to quit as well. Ironically, our older son is now a first-year medical student and like his father, he continues to smoke.
My husband has ignored several terrifying reminders of his mortality. One New Year’s Eve, the left side of his face and body collapsed. He briefly lost consciousness. He was taken to a hospital where he is on staff and underwent a myriad of tests. Thank goodness there was no evidence that he had a stroke. I saw the experience as a wake-up call. He has continued to smoke in part because there was no demonstrable evidence that his smoking had caused lung cancer, heart disease or stroke.
A year later, he had a colonoscopy. The doctor found thirty polyps, some of which were pre-cancerous. She told us that she had only seen this many polyps in smokers. The next year, she found fifty polyps. She advised us that if he continues to have so many polyps, she will have to recommend that his colon be removed because he is “an accident waiting to happen.” I have prayed that it would motivate him to quit. It has not.
My husband shows no signs of trying to quit smoking. This winter I have had three bouts of asthmatic bronchitis. I suffer from his smoking on a daily basis and don’t want him to continue smoking in our house. I have even offered to buy him a shed so that he can smoke without harming me directly. There are people who have suggested that I move out. But I don’t want to live without him. I just want to live without his cigarettes.
Leslie Neustadt is a retired Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York. Published in The Akros Review, Peer Glass, Cure Magazine and elsewhere, she has also read her essays on public radio. Leslie writes and creates for healing, exploration and just plain fun from her home in Niskayuna.