Handling A Partner's Unhealthy Habit

Love, Self

Nagging can only go so far; ending bad habits takes compassion.

I'm seething. My husband, Jon, has snuck outside to smoke. Again. The smell is wafting in through the bedroom window. He's quit a few times, but he always starts up again—just, it seems to me, when abstaining should be getting easier. His backslides strike in the most insidious of ways: A late-night trip to the store for some pizza rolls ends with him walking in ten minutes later, pack of cigarettes in hand, looking dazed. I barely even remember buying these. But now that I have 'em, I'm sure as hell gonna smoke 'em. Or he has a stressful day, starts begging cigarettes off strangers, and next thing you know, all his good intentions go up in, well, smoke.

It's not that I'm perfect. My diet could be more wholesome. I don't get enough exercise. I have a 20-ounce-a-day Mountain Dew habit. But all that seems so minor when compared to Jon's habit of defying the Surgeon General ten to fifteen times a day. Can't he see what he's doing to his health? Doesn't he care enough about me to quit?

I'm not above using the kids against him. "Oh, Daddy's just outside turning his lungs black," I'll say, or "Ew. Do you see what's on the ground there? Daddy's cigarette butt. Isn't that disgusting?" It feels slimy, but isn't it my job to make sure he's healthy?

Actually, the answer is no. Taking on too much responsibility for somebody else's bad habit is a classic sign of codependency, an unhealthy dynamic in which one person becomes too wrapped up in the other's behavior. "It's really about ego," says Sherry Amatenstein, dating columnist and author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups. "People think, 'There must be something wrong with me if my partner has certain behaviors.'"

Ouch. I'd like to pretend it isn't true, but I'll admit that I'm ashamed to be seen in public with Jon when he's holding a cigarette. On some subconscious level, I feel like it makes a statement about how much I value health. The irony is that I could have devoted all the time I've spent stressing out over what he's doing wrong to improving my own life. But I'm beginning to get the picture: Focusing on somebody else's bad habits is a triple-edged sword. First, it has a funny way of blinding you to your own faults and can make you so on-edge that you lose focus on your own goals and ambitions. It can cause stress and tension in a relationship—who wants to be either a nagger or a naggee? And it's usually an exercise in futility: Nobody can break a habit unless he really wants to. He Thinks Your Feedback Is Nagging

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