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Dear Dr. Yael,

I am very disappointed in my husband. We are newlyweds and I knew that he smoked before our wedding. He stopped when we became engaged and told me that he would stop forever. I recently found out that he is still smoking, and I am very upset about it. My husband also tends to consume a lot of alcohol on Shabbos. Please help me deal with this problem. I love him and we have a good marriage. However, he promised to change the smoking habit and he didn’t do so. I did not know about the alcohol, but both of these things really upset me. To be clear, my husband does not get drunk and gets up for minyan on Shabbos morning, but I hate to see him tipsy almost every week and then I am left alone all afternoon because he needs to sleep it off. He also never drinks during the week and only drinks with his friends on Shabbos. My father does not drink at all and uses grape juice for Kiddush, so I am not used to this at all. Please help me figure out how to deal with this without hurting my marriage.




Dear Anonymous,

One of the issues I often deal with in therapy is wives who marry husbands who smoked before they were married and told their wives they would try to stop. Since smoking is such a dangerous habit, I understand a wife who wants her husband to cease smoking. However, constant nagging generally never helps. In addition, a woman must be realistic that if a man smokes before he is married, it is unlikely and difficult for him to stop this addictive habit. I personally have had some success with helping men stop smoking through hypnosis, but this was only when the man himself was motivated to stop, and he was doing it because he wanted to cease this unhealthy habit. When a wife insists that her husband come for hypnosis, and the husband is clearly not ready to stop smoking and is not motivated to get help, hypnosis rarely works.

How often do I hear in my practice, “well I married him/her because they told me they would change.” Or “I thought after we were married I would work on changing him/her.” For those of you who are dating, I ask you to try not to marry someone with the hope of changing them. A healthy marriage can help someone grow emotionally, spiritually and bolster someone’s self-esteem. However, although marriage can help modify certain issues, basic character traits and middos are not so amenable to change in general and certainly one should not marry with the hope of changing the other person.

First of all we should learn to love and accept our spouses with their shortcomings. Since we all have issues and faults, one must make a calculated evaluation if one can live with the other person’s faults and focus on their positive attributes.

With positive reinforcement, we can help our spouses grow. Constant criticism and being the “home improvement committee” generally makes the other person feel unloved, unappreciated, and insecure. It is important to focus on your spouse’s good points and to make your husband feel good about himself. Even if you’re disappointed, you have to change your focus, or you can destroy your marriage.

If you want to try to encourage your husband to stop smoking, it would be prudent to do so in a loving manner, rather than with threats and nagging. Supportive wives are more effective in helping their husbands change. However, remember that in most cases, whatever habit(s) your spouse has before marriage will likely remain after marriage and changing these habits is unlikely. People can be successful when trying to stop smoking, but it’s a hard habit to stop. You can be supportive by trying the following ideas:

  • Express your concerns without lecturing. Help your husband see how much you love him and how you don’t want him to ever get sick, chas v’shalom. Help him see how the dangers of smoking can hurt him and how you want him around for a long time.
  • If you can get your husband on board, be supportive of the method he chooses to stop smoking and help him make sure he follows through (i.e., if he chooses a nicotine replacement method, make sure you always have enough for him and buy more if needed).
  • 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 your husband and your family and you will need to help him stay strong.
  • Help distract your husband from his cravings and/or withdrawal symptoms. You can help your husband a lot by distracting him with things such as a walk, playing a game, baking a desert 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 your husband or push him too hard. On the other hand, some encouragement and incentive can be helpful. Maybe create a way to include incentives for stopping to smoke such as a date night, getting away for the weekend, small gifts or gift cards, a handwritten card that states your love and encouragement.
  • Get outside help if your husband is willing. Getting the right outside help can increase your husband’s chances of stopping to smoke.

You also briefly mention drinking on Shabbos as a problem, but it seems as if you’re not sure if it’s a problem or something you just are not used to because your father never drank. Think about the following issues and if you answer yes to most of them, then your husband may have an issue with drinking:

  • 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 shule (you already said he doesn’t) or neglect you or the children because of his drinking?
  • Has your husband become isolated and distant from friends and family?
  • Does your husband ever drink alone or in secret?

From your letter, it does not appear that your husband has a drinking problem, but you will need to re-evaluate based on these questions. Either way, if it bothers you, you should talk to your husband in a loving manner about how his drinking bothers you. 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. Hatzlacha!

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to [email protected]. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at