(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)
My father-in-law has recently taken up pipe smoking. As long as the smoke isn’t around me or my kids, I don’t care that he does it.
The problem is that my husband wants to “occasionally” join him. My husband knows how I feel about tobacco use, but he doesn’t think I should be giving him a hard time about it.
I told him that if he’s going to do it then he shouldn’t tell me about it, and that I better not ever smell it on him. He seems OK with this, but to me, it means he’s OK lying about it.
My husband and his father already bond over beer and liquor, so I don’t see why he needs to do something he knows I hate. If we were only dating and had no kids, this would be something that could be a deal-breaker.
–Feeling Annoyed and Alone; Fredonia, NY
Marriage is about many things.
It’s about love, and commitment, and compromise, and family, and talking about your day.
But as much as anything, marriage is about respect.
As in, it won’t work without it.
And right now, there’s a lack of respect in your marriage.
No matter how compatible two people are, they aren’t going to align in every aspect. It’s impossible. (And if they do, it’s likely unhealthy.)
Someone’s going to see certain things from a different perspective or do certain things that rub their partner the wrong way.
As I wrote a few months ago, my wife, Emily, is pretty much perfect — except when it comes to cleanliness.
She is not dirty, but she is messy. Whereas I prefer order over clutter.
If we’re not careful, this divergence could lead to endless disagreements. But thankfully, we’ve figured out how to coexist.
She keeps her piles contained; I accept the presence of these piles because I’m Emily’s husband, not her parent.
It’s this mutual respect that maintains our compatibility
When it comes to tobacco use, you and your husband are on opposite ends of the spectrum.
You believe it’s a (potential) deal-breaker; he believes it’s no big deal.
Truthfully, there’s a case to be made for each viewpoint. You’re both right, and you’re both wrong.
That’s often true of marital disputes. The key is working together to find an amenable solution you both can live with — so you can continue living with each other.
Here are three steps to take to get back on corresponding pages…
Pick Your Battles
Let’s look at the pipe-smoking deal you’ve struck with your husband:
-He can only do it when you’re not around.
-He can only do it when your kids are not around.
-You won’t be able to smell the smoke on him.
-You won’t even know he’s doing it.
Is this something worth fighting over?
I understand there’s more to it than just your disdain for tobacco, and we’ll get to that in a minute.
But in a vacuum, this could be an issue on which you express your displeasure, then let it go. This could be his little secret, meaning you wouldn’t have to worry about it.
In terms of vices your husband could have, from frequenting the champagne room to risking your kids’ college funds on a roll of the dice, sharing a pipe with his father doesn’t feel that troubling.
What is troubling, however, is that the only way the two of them can seemingly bond is by altering themselves with alcohol and/or tobacco.
Now that’s an issue that could be worth fighting over.
Stop Playing Games
“My husband knows how I feel about tobacco use…”
“I told him that if he’s going to do it then he shouldn’t tell me about it, and that I better not ever smell it on him. He seems OK with this, but to me, it means he’s OK lying about it.”
In that first excerpt from your submission, you say your husband understands you’re against him smoking a pipe.
Yet in the next, you outline the circumstances under which you’re fine with him doing so.
This is not fair to him.
You can’t tell him it’s OK to do something, then get mad at or hold it against him when he does it.
It’s never wise to play coy with your spouse, to test him to see how he’ll react.
You’re not an employer interviewing him for a job; you’re his wife. And that’s the sort of behavior that breeds distrust, resentment and an adversarial environment.
Sure, in a perfect world, your husband would view tobacco and pipe-smoking the same way as you.
But he doesn’t.
If he ends up smoking, it won’t prove he’s cool with lying to you; it’ll prove he can adhere to the arrangement to which you both agreed.
Say What You Want to Say
“If we were only dating and there were no kids it would be something that could be a deal breaker.”
When I first read this, I thought you were talking solely about tobacco use. I thought you were saying you couldn’t be with a smoker.
But after a few readings, I began wondering if you were referencing the bigger picture:
That you would never stay with someone who, a) was that different from you, and b) could blatantly disregard your wishes and do something you didn’t want him to do.
And now I’m wondering:
If I’m unclear on where you stand, could your husband be too?
Now’s the time to erase that uncertainty.
He can’t read your mind, so make sure there’s no reason he has to.
Explain to him how you feel, what your concerns are and what does and does not qualify for you as a deal-breaker.
You view his pipe smoking as a mountain; he thinks it’s a molehill.
But hopefully, with a little communication and a little compromise, the two of you can find common ground.
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