Smoking tied to Divorce and Marital Health Issues

53% Increased Risk of Divorce

Man offering light to woman at gambling table
Jim Bastardo/The Image Bank/Getty Images

A 1990s study by Eric Doherty and William J. Doherty of the University of Minnesota found that smokers have ​a 53% increased risk of divorce. Apparently, age, race, education, income or gender makes no difference.

More Studies

Earlier studies have shown that younger smokers seem to enter adulthood with more psychological problems than non-smokers. Additionally, adult smokers have been shown to have higher levels of depression and anxiety.

These are the type of problems which can lead to relationship problems.

Although the 1997 long-term study by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan states that smoking is a predictor for divorce, Doherty emphasizes that smoking does not actually cause divorce. However, he found that those who smoke have characteristics and life experiences that make them more divorce-prone than nonsmokers.

The study from ISR tracked more than 33,000 young adults and found that smoking rates were far above average among those men and women who would later divorce; thus, smoking is a predictor of divorce.

Doherty worked with nationally representative data from the General Social Survey, which is administered annually by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Quitting Smoking

Quitting, even with a supportive spouse and when one wants to quit, is not an easy thing to accomplish.


It appears that separated and divorced persons are less likely to quit smoking than married persons. It is thought that the social support that a spouse can provide helps increase the probability of ceasing to smoke. However, a smoker with marital problems has more stress in his/her life and has a lower chance of success in quitting smoking.

Marriage Effect Studies

We found several research projects that connect marriage and smoking. One study demonstrates that marriage has positive health benefits, especially for men. While another one shows that, unfortunately, marriage does not have a positive effect on smoking habits. Mr. Bachman says that although marriage can cut down the amount a person drinks, what he calls the "marriage effect" brought about only a slight reduction in cigarette smoking habits.

Non-Smoking Spouse Concerns

Many non-smoking spouses have very strong feelings about their partner's smoking habit. The feelings can range from concern, fear, and disgust to feeling unimportant, disappointed and hurt. Some partners interpret their spouse's not quitting smoking as saying that they don't care about their own health, and ultimately don't really care about their spouse or family.

Secondhand Smoke

ETS or secondhand smoke is finding its way into custody cases. Some parents have lost their parental rights or have had major restrictions placed on their visitation rights.


Another area that can cause conflict in a marriage between a smoker and a non-smoker is traveling. Many romantic places are becoming entirely non-smoking.

Additionally, deciding whether or not to sit in smoking sections of restaurants and airports, where offered, can also cause conflict. So a great opportunity for some alone time for such a couple would only cause more stress.

Other Health Risks

Non-smoking spouses and children are exposed to second-hand smoke, may adopt the same negative behaviors, and often have poor nutrition and diets.

The Bottom Line

It appears that smoking can have a negative effect not only on your physical health but on your emotional health and marriage relationship, too.