The Romance of a Good Smoke
Finding new rituals
In the early sessions, "we try to plant seeds of how things can be different,'' Rohrbaugh says. They suggest that couples who smoke together envision a smoke-free life and what it might mean. Better health? An easier time socializing with nonsmoking friends? No more pressure from family members or friends to quit?
The couples also might think about what could replace their smoking habit in specific situations. Instead of a post-sex smoke, perhaps a soak in the Jacuzzi, a warm shower, special music, or aromatherapy candles would suffice.
Partners who use cigarettes to signal to a nonsmoking spouse that some time alone is needed must develop another strategy to communicate that need.
By session three, Rohrbaugh's team hopes the couples or smoking partner are ready to set a quit date. They offer advice on tapering-down aids such as nicotine patches and other medications.
Smokers call the study leaders daily to report in, informing the research team about how many cigarettes they smoked the day before, what their feelings were, what their relationship experiences were, and other details.
Other authorities weigh in
Those who work with smoking cessation programs and couples counseling say the concept makes a lot of sense. For years, Harriet Braiker, PhD, a Los Angeles therapist, has told smoking couples she counsels: "You need to understand the function smoking is playing in the relationship."
The possible scenarios are many, she says. Two smokers who quit together may have a hard time trusting that the other is not cheating by smoking in private. If one partner quits, the reformed smoker may have a holier-than-thou attitude. Nagging also can affect the relationship.
Braiker remembers a reformed smoker married to a smoker, who refused to kiss her husband because of his tobacco breath. This went on, she says, for four years. They had sex -- and two kids -- but no kissing.
Some couples have told Braiker that smoking brings them closer. "It's an odd kind of togetherness," she says. One couple told her: "So, we'll die at the same time."
Nina Schneider, PhD, a UCLA researcher who has investigated nicotine sprays and other cessation methods, says the concept studied by Rohrbaugh makes sense to her, too. But she awaits additional scientific scrutiny of it, and says comparisons of quit rates should be made between smoking couples who receive the counseling about smoking's effect on relationships and those who do not. But it the idea bears out, she says, it would be a welcome addition to help those who thus far haven't been able to escape tobacco's grasp using existing methods.