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By Deacon Tom Fogle and JoAnne Fogle | May 2011

"Smoking is a deal-breaker." - "Marriage shouldn't have deal-breakers."

“Smoking is a deal-breaker.”

Barb says: I recently found a pack of cigarettes in Mike’s jacket. I am really upset – my grandfather and uncle died of lung cancer and this is a “deal-breaker” for me. I always told Mike I wouldn’t marry a smoker.

“Marriage shouldn’t have deal-breakers.”

Mike says: I know smoking is bad for me. And I did quit before Barb and I got married. But I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and picked it up again. It calms me down – and it is my body after all, not Barb’s. I can’t believe she considers this a “deal-breaker”; I thought marriage meant there were no deal-breakers.

What do they do?: Mike is correct: in a sacramental marriage there should not be any deal-breakers. However, addictive behaviors that are harmful and dangerous to either spouse border on unacceptability.

A marital relationship is based on covenantal love: trust, honesty, commitment and care for your spouse. Barb has a right to be concerned about Mike starting to smoke again – not only because of the impact to his health, but also because of what second-hand smoke can do to hers. Barb should share with Mike how his smoking again will affect “his and her” health and focus less on the relatives who have already died. This may help Mike understand the severity of his actions. It is not unusual for a person to revert to addictive behaviors when under stress, especially if those patterns were learned in their early developmental years. The addict tends to rationalize his or her actions in an attempt to legitimize and justify them (“It is my body” or “I thought there were no deal-breakers,” for example). The rationalizing usually makes no sense except to the addict.

Barb and Mike need to discuss what the particular stress Mike is experiencing and how they both could help in reducing the stress – remember that in a sacramental marriage helping your spouse comes before self-interest. In most cases, stress can be minimized when both husband and wife share in finding a remedy that will work toward lessening behaviors that are not conducive to a life-giving marriage. Simple things like evening walks together, short discussions around the dinner table or participating together in a hobby may help. The key is to re-channel the stress.

Addictive behaviors usually need assistance to overcome – they tend to overrule our good sense and have a powerful magnetic pull on our human weaknesses. Mike should ask the Holy Spirit for grace to fight the addictive attraction and to choose good over evil. It is wise to remember the admonishment from Romans 14, “If your brother is being hurt by what you eat, your conduct is no longer in accord with love. … Let us then pursue what leads to peace and to building up one another.”