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Smokers, non-smokers share ways to cohabit

Living with a smoker is hardly a breeze.

Brien Lee, for one, is frustrated.

"Our walls and ceiling are brown, though I'm trying to clean and paint. Our clothes usually smell of smoke or are brown from hanging in the closet. My high school-age son is so paranoid of smelling of smoke before school that he waits in the basement, where he has his room, before school rather than upstairs. So obviously, smoking is allowed inside," Lee wrote in an e-mail.

Lee was among readers who responded when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked for stories of what it's like for smokers and non-smokers to share a household. Responses varied from worry for those who still smoke to admiration for a spouse's tolerance.

Lee, 46, quit smoking 10 years ago. His wife still smokes. He broadly estimates that they spend $3,500 a year on cigarettes and $1,200 on cigarette tax for her habit. His wife has tried to quit. But he understands that she can't. The patch didn't work. Hypnosis didn't work.

So Lee lives with it.

Another reader is worried about health effects of smoking: "On May 17, 2006, my significant other had a minor stroke. He was 59 years old. At that time we both smoked. The doctors strongly suggested he quit smoking. From that day on, we both quit smoking. In October, he started smoking again. I am still not smoking," wrote Diane Malmarowski of Milwaukee.

"I want him to quit so bad, but I know when I was smoking I never listened to anyone, either. I just am scared for him and next time could be a lot worse and maybe permanent damage could occur. Help."

Milwaukeean Gina L. Bishop, 35, wrote that her husband doesn't smoke in the car, in their home or in front of his daughter because he doesn't want her to know he smokes.

"On one hand, it appears that he is ashamed of smoking," Bishop wrote. "On the other, he loves to smoke.

"If I keep asking him to quit, he smokes more. If I am silent, he smokes less. You cannot make a smoker quit unless the smoker makes the decision to quit for himself. I am hoping my silence will assist him in making the healthy decision."

The key to discussing such a divisive issue is attitude, said Dan Benavides, a marriage and relationship coach with Summit Psychology Clinic in Wauwatosa, Wis.

"When you enter a conversation, you want to keep two goals in mind," Benavides said. You want to find a solution to the issue, and you want to come away from the discussion without harming the relationship.

Focus on the behavior you want to change. Make your argument but reserve judgment.

"You need to be willing to listen to their point of view," Benavides said. "Perhaps it's a stress reliever or it's a habit they associate with their morning coffee, or they've tried to quit before and they haven't been successful. Listen to what they say. You may learn some things."

Start any conversation with "I'm concerned" or "I'm worried" instead of "I'm angry," Benavides said.

And then, have a little faith in your partner. Have faith that a non-smoker's concern for a smoker's health is legitimate and faith that the smoker is doing what he or she can to limit any harm.