Dear Dr. Yael:
I am a recent newlywed who is very disappointed in her husband.
Let me explain.
I knew my husband was a smoker when we dated, but he stopped when we got engaged and said it was forever. So far that is true. However, he does drink quite a bit on Shabbos. Maybe a lot. I will say that overall he is a good husband, davens, learns, is good to me, etc. The drinking, though, has thrown me. I grew up in a home where my father did not drink at all and, in fact, uses grape juice for kiddush.
Do you have any suggestions for me?
So often clients say, “Well I married him/her because he/she told me this would change.” Or “I thought after we were married I would work on changing him/her.”
Daters please do not move forward with someone thinking that you are going to be able to change him or her. Yes, a healthy marriage can help someone grow emotionally and spiritually and bolster someone’s self-esteem. However, basic character traits and certain habits or addictions are not so easy to change and, thus, we need to be careful what we look away from or believe will be different after the wedding.
That being said, we all have issues and faults and must make a calculated decision as to whether the other person’s faults are something we can live with. If the answer is yes, our focus should be on the person’s positive attributes.
Know that constant criticism and living with the “home improvement committee” generally makes a person feel unloved, unappreciated and insecure. Thus, focus on your husband’s good points and make him feel good about himself. Even if you’re disappointed, changing your focus can make all the difference.
A common therapy issue is women who marry men who smoke and say they are going to stop. Remember that constant nagging never helps and smoking is highly addictive. While I have had some success helping men stop smoking through hypnosis, it was only when the man himself was motivated to stop. When it’s the wife pushing for hypnosis and the husband is not ready, it rarely works.
If you want to try to encourage your husband to stop smoking, you must try to do so in a loving manner. Here are some suggestions:
- Express your concerns without lecturing. Help your husband see how much you love him; tell him that smoking can make a person sick and you want him around for a long time.
- If you can get your husband on board, be supportive of the method he chooses and help him with follow through. For example, if he chooses a nicotine replacement method, make sure there is enough product available.
- If your husband is actually addicted to nicotine, he will likely have withdrawal symptoms and you will need to be patient and supportive during this trying time. Withdrawal symptoms can manifest as anger, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, weight gain, difficulty sleeping, and increased appetite. This will be hard for both of you.
- Help distract him from cravings and/or withdrawal symptom by going on walks, playing games, baking together, working out together, or just going on a fun date.
- Find the right level of encouragement. As noted earlier, it’s important not to nag or push too hard. On the other hand, some encouragement and incentives can be helpful. Some ideas include a date night, getting away for the weekend, small gifts or gift cards, or a handwritten card with your love and encouragement.
- Get outside help if your husband is willing, it will increase his chances of success.
As for the drinking, you seem to be unsure whether or not it’s a problem. Think about the following questions – if you answer yes to most of them, then your husband may have a problem.
Does your husband experience temporary blackouts or short-term memory loss when drinking?
Does your husband show signs of drastic mood swings?
Does your husband make excuses for drinking?
Does your husband put drinking before other responsibilities? Does he show up late to work or shul or neglect you because of his drinking?
Has your husband become isolated and distant from friends and family?
Does your husband ever drink alone or in secret?
Whether or not you answer yes, if it bothers you, talk to him about it. Maybe he can cut back on this as well. Whatever you decide to do, try to focus on your husband’s positive attributes, which will help him feel secure and grow in the marriage. Hatzlocha!