Dear Dr. Peirano,
I've been wondering for a long time whether such a wonderful man like mine deserves my little big worries. It means in good times and in bad.
To the good: We are both self-employed in demanding jobs, have wonderful children. Everyone tries to remain financially autonomous, gets the necessary freedom from the other, the care work is shared fairly. Physical closeness is important to both of us, even if it's often on the night shift.
To the bad:
It was so difficult to write to you because my husband is a heart of a person: helpful, personable, funny, great lover and wonderful father.
Third, I've digested over the years. Of course, sometimes it still scratches the ego when the other person is (always feels) more sympathetic, no matter how much you pull yourself out of harm's way, but I have learned that this is (his) great strength and that I prefer friends and family to being caring and perceive strongly. I don't want competition in my partnership, certainly not in my head.
Our main problem, if you will, remains the second: My husband gave up smoking and has now resumed it. That sounds harsh and unwilling to compromise, but for me there are no compromises when it comes to smoking. Unfortunately. I'm not a health fanatic, and if he wants to buy a motorbike tomorrow or eat bars of chocolate, I'll agree.
The fact is: We are ten years apart. Not unusual today, he became a father in his 40s. Of course, no one knows what will happen. And yet we both had and still have the fundamental idea of growing old together. His father died comparatively young and he knows how that can feel for the bereaved.
I think maybe he needs an outlet for his stress. I wish I could give him a safe space where there is no need for lies. Of course, the question arose as to how much he still depends on smoking and how much he needs it for himself.
In our marriage we can talk openly about all other things. It is all the more sad then to be lied to; even if my reaction to the issue prompts such white lies, I suppose.
For me, smoking is not a reason for separation, but we both suffer from it, each in our own way.
Thank you for your time so far!
Dear Theda G,
Despite the description of the problem, ws sounds like a lot of appreciation for your husband, and I'm very happy about that! And precisely because your relationship is so positive, you probably find it difficult to accept the hairline fracture that is just developing.
You have accepted that your partner seems to be the more flamboyant, likeable of the two of you, and the affection obviously comes naturally to him, while you're the one who feels he has to earn it through caring and strength. And you would treat him to a fancy motorbike or chocolate - but not cigarettes. That is a limit, and living in a partnership also means respecting the limits of the other person or negotiating them as equals.
Unfortunately, your number two problem - smoking - seems to be a little bigger than you might first think. Because your husband smokes, although he knows that this is a no-go for you and that you are also worried about his health. So he doesn't respect your boundary and isn't really willing to negotiate with you right now. But he avoids. With lying and concealing, he shows another unmistakable sign of addiction. And so the topic is in the middle between the two of you and takes up a large and wrong space.
Do you have any idea why your husband firstly started smoking again and secondly why he is so persistent? What happened in his life that triggered this?
I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. In my PhD, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.
Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.
Do you have questions, problems or lovesickness? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.
I always find it helpful to use a reservoir metaphor when dealing with addictions. Please imagine a reservoir in which the burdens and problems of life lie. What has been lying down there for many years (e.g. an unresolved relationship with one's father, problems with one's body, feelings of guilt)? What has happened recently, e.g. conflicts at work, time pressure, health problems? And what is annoying on a very everyday basis (the traffic jam every morning on the way to work, the time pressure when picking up from daycare, not enough sex...).
Would your husband be willing to work on the picture alone or with you? You can represent the reservoir in the form of a symbol (basket/box) and fill it with certain labeled objects of the appropriate size (e.g. balls of socks, books, packages) as much as you feel like. Or you can draw the reservoir or work with a metaplan wall. It is important to first symbolize the reservoir and to update it several times a week. The question is: What is going on with me right now? What is on my mind?
It is important to always know your own lake and water level, because when the reservoir is full, the water (hence the problems) presses against the dam wall and either it breaks (mental breakdown, psychosis, burn-out, suicide, etc.) or that Water spills over the dam wall as a problem (e.g. addictive behavior, binge eating, tantrums, cutting yourself).
But if a dam breaks or there is a flood, it is already too late! It is more important to keep looking at the pool and to make sure that the water level is at most in the middle range. This can be achieved by treating oneself mindfully, e.g. through breaks, meditation, relaxation exercises, sport, water drains away again and again. And through clarifying discussions, good time management, close contact with your own feelings and reducing perfectionism, you can ensure that not so many problems come into the pool in the first place or that they are solved.
When the reservoir is balanced, overcoming the addictive or problem behavior usually becomes unnecessary. Because a low water level means that the water neither presses hard against the wall and triggers cravings nor spills over and leads to danger.
How about addressing the issue at that level and encouraging your husband to take care of the reservoir? This is much more thorough and sustainable than staying on the symptom level (smoking). Coaching or perhaps short-term therapy can help here.
Or these books:
Matthew Johnstone: Quiet the Mind. An illustrated introduction to meditation.
Bas Kast: Compass for the soul. The conclusion of recent studies on residency and inner strength.
And when he gets back into self-care, he and you both will be much better off and he'll do something for his health too.
All the best to you and warm regards