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The question

My wonderful husband has an infuriating habit: Despite my repeated, alternately stern, gentle, loving, pleading requests, he won’t stop smoking in our house! I have asthma and the smoke really bothers my lungs. I can tell when he’s smoked, even if it was a few hours earlier. I tell him this but he doesn’t seem to believe me. Also, it makes the house stink. I know he can’t smell it, but trust me, it’s the first thing you notice when you open the door. He seems to think that opening a window and lighting a candle negates the ill effects of these carcinogens, but he’s only fooling himself. What can I do to get him to take my demand seriously?

The answer

Your question contains two components: 1) marital, 2) medical/psychological.

Let me address the latter first.

It seems to me that we as a species have come a long way, have evolved, in effect, when it comes to the whole question of smoking indoors.

I’ve been on this planet long enough that I can remember smoking in bars, smoking in planes, smoking in newsrooms, smoking in movie theatres.

(As an usher, I remember intoning over and over: “Smoking in the back seven rows only please.”)

And I squawked when it was taken away in bars. As a smoker at that point (thank God I finally kicked that habit), I remember saying: “A drink without a smoke is like a day without sunshine.” (Which I now mock myself for.)

Anyway, point being: I know some people still do it, in their houses and condos and whatnot, but as a society, we do a lot less indoor smoking, and I feel like that’s a clear evolution.

As you say, it stinks, apart from everything else. The curtains stink.

So there are reasons No. 1 and 2 for your husband to stop smoking indoors: 1) stinky curtains, 2) it’s outdated and antediluvian. And you want a hip, modern, up-to-date husband, I assume.

But the fact you have asthma takes things to a whole different level.

Look: I, of all people, get what a monkey on the back smoking can be and how difficult a habit to kick.

But what level of boorishness and selfishness possesses him to smoke indoors when his wife has asthma?

Why can he not go outside?

Let me say a few words about marriage. I have been blessed to be in one for a quarter of a century now. I can tell you that one of the keys is mutual respect.

I can also tell you, and this may be the subtler point, that you do things for the other person even if it doesn’t seem important to you. It is important to that person.

This may be a weird analogy to smoking, but my teenage sons are always leaving their boots in the front foyer of our house. And I say: “Don’t do that.”

And they say: “Dad, what’s the big deal? It doesn’t seem important.”

And I reply: “It doesn’t matter if it seems important to you. It’s important to your mother. And you care for her and you respect her. Therefore you should not do it.”

It’s the same with your husband and the smoking. If he cares for you, and your asthma, he will cease and desist, or at least take it outside.

Now, what sort of brinksmanship you should bring to bear on the situation is a tough call. You say you’ve been “alternately stern, gentle, loving, pleading,” and I get that, right down to my bones.

But it hasn’t worked. Even “stern” hasn’t worked.

Maybe it’s time to be harsh. Maybe it’s time to be nasty. Maybe it’s time to say: “You know what, you’re being extremely selfish and a jerk, smoking indoors with a wife who has asthma. You need to have enough respect for me to at least go out on the porch or I swear to God I will be reminiscing about you in an unflattering way with my next husband.”

(Or words to that effect.)

Because it’s really not cool. It’s really not considerate. And I can’t say I have been both of those things throughout my entire marital life, but I’ve tried my best, and I think it’s what anyone should be entitled to: a spouse who is both “cool” and “considerate.”

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