He stinks and he knows it.
February 24, 2009 8:36 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my husband to shower more than twice a month?

My husband won't bathe or brush his teeth more than twice a month. I've tried everything I could think of; politely suggesting before work or bed, nagging, explaining how embarrassing and gross it is, even offering sexual rewards, but nothing has gotten him to improve his hygiene.

This is a habit he has lived with his entire life and obviously has no desire to change now. He knows it's gross and he knows I hate it. How can I get him to stay clean?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (47 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
tell him you are worried about his mental health. And you should be.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:38 AM on February 24, 2009 [9 favorites]

Couples counseling.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:40 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

My first question would be if this is a cultural thing. My father is from a different country where bathing only once a week was considered the norm and he merely slathered aftershave on himself most other days. In addition, I've worked with people from some nationalities where it was a religious practice to not bathe.

So if it's one of those then you have a certain type of battle, changing one's social norms to match your own.

However, if the guy is a slob or just plain filthy then you have another type of battle, and it also may be one that you cannot win or you may not be willing to fight hard enough to win. You've tried the normal things to get him to change, and even gone above and beyond. But the fact is...what you describe is gross, unhealthy, and likely very very smelly. It's time to firm up with him and start giving ultimatums, punishment for not showering, not rewards for cleanliness. Things along the lines of "I can't stand the smell in here; I'm taking the and going to a hotel. Call me when you stop stinking". No, I'm not joking in that.

But while I think MC Lo-Carb may have been a bit facetious in his answer I also agree...WHY is he not showering? Is there depression involved? Is it that he likes his own stench? Is he sooo busy that he cannot take the time?

I realize since you're anon you probably can't/won't answer these questions but if we knew the root cause I think we could give more specific strategies.

posted by arniec at 8:43 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tell him he may think other people don't notice, but we do, and we don't want to be around him. i know I don't. He's not fooling anyone. He's not magically clean. He's dirty and he stinks and we, the breathing public, think he's disgusting. Show him this Meta page. Print it. Tape it to the bathroom door.
posted by clarkstonian at 8:43 AM on February 24, 2009

It might be too late...you did marry him this way, apparently. But while not showering is just gross, not brushing his teeth could have very costly consequences....and I'm not just talking about dental bills. People die from infected teeth.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:47 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Perhaps he loathes intimacy and it is like a "Force Field" of sorts. What does he say when you ask him about it?
posted by Studiogeek at 8:51 AM on February 24, 2009

Instead of trying to make him bathe, go the opposite route. Give him really scummy jobs to do (change the oil by hand, mow the lawn, shovel snow, work in the garden). Send him to go do physical excercise (sign up for a couples softball league, go running or biking together)... get him absolutely disgustingly sweaty...

Then tell him he can sleep on the couch until he bathes...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:00 AM on February 24, 2009

A friend of mine had a boyfriend whose hygiene fell by the wayside; not even "come shower with me" did the trick, just as you've probably tried something similar. I'm not sure why, but people with cleaning issues are notoriously stubborn about it. Short of running some hose from the outside into the house, then "surprising" him when he comes home, you cannot make someone bathe.
posted by adipocere at 9:05 AM on February 24, 2009

[A few comments removed. Take the metadiscussion to metatalk if it needs to happen.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:12 AM on February 24, 2009

I knew someone in high school who didn't brush his teeth. He started getting teased at school because his teeth were getting pretty gross and he would just shrug off or deflect the comments. He never took the hint and started brushing.

If it's gone on this long, then your husband could be emotionally invested. If he were to change, then that might be an admission that he has been "wrong" and "gross" all these years.

It reminds me of this question, honestly. Your husband is doing something that's familiar to him and has been "working". To step outside that would be uncomfortable. I felt the same discomfort when getting my own hair cut (after having it long for a decade). I realize it's not on the same scale, but I was still nervous.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what you can do beyond being both insistent and supportive. If he's not being co-operative by bathing more, I can't imagine couple's therapy would even be on the table. I wouldn't recommend trying to trick him into it (Hey, let's go swimming!) or being patronizing (Now I KNOW this is a big deal for you. Maybe we could start with just your feet.). That would only serve to strengthen his resolve.

Ultimately, he has to make this change because he wants to. I'm sorry I can't give you a more proactive answer.
posted by ODiV at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2009

I have a hard time putting myself in your place because I would not have married someone who did something I could not stand because that would not be very smart, but here goes (answered based on the assumption that this is neither trolling nor some type of cultural thing, but is instead just a nasty neckbeard situation).

An adult does what needs to be done, even if doing so is unpleasant: eating vegetables, paying bills, going to work, etc. A child, even when an action is necessary, will try to avoid doing that action if the child finds the act unpleasant. If a person acts like a child (and just removing that person from your life is not an option) you have no choice but to treat them like a child. If you have gone through asking and begging and everything else you can think of and it hasn't worked, I would try this: each time you find his odor offensive say to him "Look, you smell bad therefore you obviously need to bathe and brush your teeth. Will you do it?" He says no then you say: "I'm sorry, but something needs to be done and you refuse to do it, therefore you leave me no choice but to do it for you." Then go outside and get the garden hose and spray him down. Doesn't matter where he is: bed, at the computer, where ever. Spray him down, squirt him with dish washing detergent and then rinse him off. Then go get him a towel. Wait a couple of days and repeat the process until he bathes himself to avoid having to go through that.
posted by ND¢ at 9:18 AM on February 24, 2009 [7 favorites]

Does he have any friends you are also friends with that you can ask for help in this matter? Sometimes it's easier for guys to take a hint from a friend, rather than from their wife.

I second the couples therapy suggestion, because anytime your SO doesn't care about something you feel strongly about (and let's face it, showering more often should not be a huge dealbreaker to him) you have problems with listening and respect.

Of course, if the guy won't even agree to shower, he probably won't agree to counseling, either.
posted by np312 at 9:25 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hate to say it, but I'm not sure you can. This may be a symptom of emotional or psychological imbalance. My only suggestion is therapy, and that has to be something he's willing to commit to. If he refuses to acknowledge that this is enough of a problem to deal with, there might not be anything you can do but leave him.

As with alcoholics and drug addicts, many people in need of some kind of therapy don't realize they need it until they "hit bottom." Often times hitting bottom only comes after they've alienated their loved ones. So long as he believes that you won't leave him, your presence in his life (no matter how much you might try to get him to change) may unfortunately only be enabling him to continue behaving this way.
posted by shmegegge at 9:32 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tell him that you are leaving him unless he cleans himself up. Give him him a week. And then follow through with it. That's fucking disgusting.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:37 AM on February 24, 2009 [10 favorites]

chyming in with optimus....

YOU are known by the company you keep. Ick.
posted by FauxScot at 9:42 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is a long shot, but I would try asking him what he needs from you that you aren't giving. Sometimes behavior like his is a form of passive-aggressive retaliation. Getting a dialog going about mutual needs can potentially increase the level of cooperation.
posted by markcmyers at 9:43 AM on February 24, 2009

Can you sponge bath, or at least deodorant stick him in his sleep. I know someone who saves her BF in his sleep because he misses spots and won't go back to fix them.
posted by valadil at 9:45 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you've made it clear that this matters to you, then he is actively choosing to behave in a way that suits his own preferences rather than a way that suits yours (or represents a compromise). It's a poor choice, but it's his to make. You can make choices about your own behavior and preferences: whether to share the same bed, whether to go out socially with him, whether to be physically close or intimate, whether to kiss him goodbye in the morning or hello in the evening, any number of actions that his hygiene choices probably make unpleasant. Personally, if my partner chose not to bathe or brush his teeth regularly despite my requests that he do so, I would choose not to do any of the above with him.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:46 AM on February 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I guess my prior comment was removed, so I'll rephrase - we need more information. You went ahead and married this guy, knowing it was a "...habit he has lived with his entire life" so it's kind of funny that you think you can demand a change from him now.

We need to know, really, if:

- his family has the same habit
- if it's a cultural issue
- if he has a job, and what kind (wouldn't his workmates notice?)

I would really not advise the tactic mentioned above : "Then go outside and get the garden hose and spray him down. Doesn't matter where he is: bed, at the computer, where ever. Spray him down, squirt him with dish washing detergent and then rinse him off."

That's completely disrespectful. I know people are going to come straight back with "Oh, but his stink is disrespectful to his partner!!!!" - which perhaps it is, but if you've changed your mind about being able to live with it, and he isn't interested in changing his habits or even meeting you halfway, I think you know what the solution is.
posted by HopperFan at 9:47 AM on February 24, 2009

Let the hand wringing and over-thinking begin.

anonymous: "This is a habit he has lived with his entire life and obviously has no desire to change now."

So this was a known habit entering into the marriage? But you thought you could change him? Get a divorce and find a new man that is more amenable to your manipulations. You'll both be happier.
posted by geekyguy at 9:49 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

No judgment here, but your husband hasn't changed any even though you have, Anon. That happens on any number of topics, beyond personal hygiene, as any given long-term relationship evolves.

Once you make it clear to him that your opinion on this topic has changed and you'd prefer some other setup, he can either go along with it or tell you he doesn't want to change his own beliefs on the topic.

You could replace "hygiene" with "sexual frequency," "putting the seat down," "not sleeping with other people," or "not microwaving fish when the windows are closed." It's all negotiation and consideration, and a lack of one on either side indicates bigger problems.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:56 AM on February 24, 2009

It sounds dramatic, but eschewing dental hygiene is almost a form of slow suicide.

My closest friend's depressed husband had a nearly $40,000 dental bill -- after his heart attack.
posted by jgirl at 10:02 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hate to be the one saying this, but I think you should tell him that it's a marriage deal-breaker. Hopefully this will get his attention. If he's not willing to bathe to save your relationship, then maybe it's time to re-evaluate. That's what couple's counciling is for.
posted by raygan at 10:07 AM on February 24, 2009

Have you tried getting other people to politely mention it to him? Maybe if the suggestion was coming from more than one source (you) he'd listen. I'd suggest getting other friends and family in on your campaign. Not to gang up on him and overwhelm him but to just have a few other people suggest that he's a little stinky might be a motivator.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:08 AM on February 24, 2009

He stinks and he knows it.

This is a habit he has lived with his entire life and obviously has no desire to change now.

You have to take him as he is, change yourself or get a divorce.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:09 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hey, I guess my comment was removed as snark but it wasn't intended that way so I'll try to explain further:

I really meant it - relentless public shaming. Put the power of peer pressure and public humiliation to work for you. Does he have a regular set of friends, that can step in and back up your claims that this is disgusting? Tell them to tell him they only want to hang out outdoors so they don't have to smell him. When you are in public, point out the disgusted faces on nearby restaurant patrons, etc., even if it is a lie. Start acting so upset about it that you don't want to go out with him. Tell him you aren't comfortable bringing him out with co-workers because you feel it makes a bad impression of you. It's essentially an intervention, and yes, requires some lying, but you asked for advice and that is my two cents.
posted by bunnycup at 10:14 AM on February 24, 2009

He may feel you're mollycoddling him with the nagging, explaining ("lecturing" in his mind) and reward offering, I know that if I was in his place I would react defensively and stubbornly.
Be open and honest, address your own feelings by letting him know how and more importantly why his hygiene routine upsets you.
Let him know you would find him more attractive if he showered more often.
posted by tokidoki at 10:16 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding that he probably doesn't want to admit he's in the wrong; if he's been doing this his whole life, doubtless in the face of considerable social pressure, he probably has an iron-clad set of rationalizations for it. And if he were to give in now, he'd be tacitly admitting that he's been a disgusting slob for the last however many decades.

So you might want to try asking him to shower without asking him to change his convictions about it. Tell him that you understand that he doesn't think it's necessary, and that you won't try to change his mind about that, but that you wish he would do it just as a favor to you. Take the value judgments out of it and just point out that you personally have a hard time dealing with unshowered people, and it would make you much happier if he'd indulge you in this.

If this doesn't work, and you may well have already tried it, then couples counseling is probably necessary. He needs to be able to compromise on things like this.
posted by fermion at 10:18 AM on February 24, 2009 [4 favorites]

Regarding non-dental health consequences, fungal infections and yeast develop into irritations in the folds of the skin, leading to ulcers and infections. MRSA could make this life threatening. Scratching this muck with dirty fingernails just perpetuates the problem.

For your own health, avoid sexual contact with him.

posted by jgirl at 11:11 AM on February 24, 2009

Its a shame anonymous can't reply, because this is the sort of question you need more information about. How has he lived his whole life this way? Is he from a dysfunctional family? What did you do before you married him, since, he's always been this way. Has something changed where it's gone from being behaviour you could live with to behaviour that is grossing you the fuck out?

Your husband is an adult. You can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do. That he is unwilling to clean himself to make you happy does not say good things about your relationship.
posted by chunking express at 11:41 AM on February 24, 2009

I like fermion's advice--this particularly resonates with me:
he probably has an iron-clad set of rationalizations for it. And if he were to give in now, he'd be tacitly admitting that he's been a disgusting slob for the last however many decades.
I mean, that's true for a whole range of ingrained behaviors. Brilliant.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:52 AM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

All of the tricks and public humiliation and hose spraying that people are suggesting will not be effective and will destroy your marriage. Here is the question that you have to ask yourself: "Is this a marriage deal-breaker for me?"

If the answer is "yes", then you tell him so and leave the house that night, promising to return when he showers daily.

If the answer is "no", then you have to be quiet about it and stop bugging him. Do what you have to do to make your life as comfortable as possible, but don't nag him about it ever again.

That's really the only choice you have to work with. It's a sad situation though, and I'm sorry to hear about it.
posted by crapples at 12:11 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by phrakture at 12:12 PM on February 24, 2009

Nthing that we don't know a ton of important information, to include age, if there are any cultural aspects, where you are living. I am more confident in saying this is profoundly unpleasant to anyone around him, assuming this is happening outside of a couple-few countries.

I touch on the cultural aspects because I am an American living in Kuwait. There are a lot of people here from a country where there is a far greater tendency for far less bathing/showering. One such guy's a taxi driver who semi-regularly gave me rides to/from work. Long before the teeth of summer and 120-122 degrees, this guy was abso-fucking-lutely nauseating. I literally rode in the cab holding my nose, shallow breath through my mouth. That was the last ride with him, much as he was dependable, friendly, had a good car, was an excellent driver in horrid traffic.

Couldn't stomach it, literally. I had real concerns about having to fling open a door and throw up.

And that doesn't address the teeth issue, longer-term aspects and his breath.

Barring some sort of situation where this approach is common or one where he has virtually no contact with other people, it boggles my mind that people haven't spoken out strongly about this--threatening or terminating employment, asking him to leave restaurants, etc.

More to the point, Nthing that this is equally entrenched and unhealthy literally and otherwise--for both of you.

Talk is talk and love is love, but it's challenging to see how tolerating this--physical interaction with a person of abject filth, simply being around it--is sufficiently in the realm of a wise, rational, healthy life and approach to life.

If there's any hope for this changing, seems like it's gonna take strong action rather than strong words. Tell him you're off to a hotel for a week and you hope he'll take that time to give his best thought to the fact that this is comprehensively unacceptable? A quasi-sorta intervention via a home health-care specialist?
posted by ambient2 at 12:28 PM on February 24, 2009

I've seen the consequences of not brushing one's teeth in people close to me - not only is it unpleasant for anyone within range of the non-brusher's dead-tissue breath, it can be very painful and expensive later on. There is a risk of cavities, of course, and dead teeth, but how does he feel about losing the bone that holds his teeth in, or having to have his gums surgically reattached to his teeth so he doesn't lose them? Now, he may not be necessarily care about losing teeth because of his appearance, but there is a good chance an oral infection could send him in for a root canal or other emergency oral surgery, which hurts worse than pretty much anything in the whole world and costs an arm and a leg, especially if you don't have insurance. The bacteria from oral infections also can cause a host of other health problems, notably heart disease and strokes.

I'm not sure if that information would get him to take better care of his teeth or not, but I hope so.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:04 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

Agreed that since he seems to think everything is fine the way it is, he isn't going to change unless you do something drastic. I can't believe that you are still sharing a bed with this man, but if you are, STOP NOW. Move to a different room, and refuse to move back unless he promises to clean up his act, literally.

Since you are the one to change your position on this--you married him as is, after all--be prepared for him to still refuse to change, and know that you may have to move out of the house completely to really impress him with just how serious the situation has become.

If that doesn't work, your only recourse is to leave him for good. I think you know this, though, and you asked this question because you're finding it hard to go through with it.
posted by misha at 4:10 PM on February 24, 2009

Most of the posters seem to forget that about half of Americans have relatives with dentures. Hell, more than half of senior citizens are toothless, and they didn't miraculously get that way on their 65th birthday. "It might cause an oral infection!" is the weakest motivation I've heard. An enormous number of Americans have quite successfully lost their teeth without dying, and the majority of the world's population goes at least a week without a shower.

That said, we're young, and Americans, so neither of those two seem normal to us.

"I want you to, and it's really important to me." should work, assuming it's really that important to you, and he understands that. Otherwise, couples counseling seems the best way to go.
posted by talldean at 4:13 PM on February 24, 2009

A way to get him to brush his teeth is to tell him that it's not just hygeine, it's healthcare! Brushing one's teeth helps prevent gingivitis, gum disease, etc.
posted by radioamy at 4:33 PM on February 24, 2009

Glad others have mentioned the link between poor dental hygiene and heart disease.

Ultimatums usually suck and just make things worse, but drastic problems call for drastic measures:

Don't kiss him unless he has brushed his teeth in the past day.
Don't have sex with him unless he has showered in the past 4 days, and that's being generous.
God, don't even sleep in the same bed as him unless he's showered in the past 4 days.
posted by fructose at 5:26 PM on February 24, 2009

Surely you've done this, but have you just asked him why he won't bathe and brush?

My thought is, to successfully argue against his ideas, you must first understand them. Like this:

You: Why do you not bathe and brush?
Him: I don't bathe because we don't have enough hot water.
You: Let's get hot water! Why do you not brush?
Him: Because it hurts my teeth.
You: Let's get that fixed!
posted by Houstonian at 5:57 PM on February 24, 2009

Would it be possible to have him see a psychologist? Does he have an aversion to bathing, or would he simply rather not bother to? Basically, is it a question of laziness, or is there a pathological reason for it? Might he be suffering from depression?

The bottom line is, he needs help desperately. If he's gone his whole life like this, as you say, then help has been a long time coming. It sounds to me like you've pretty much tried everything, so it's time to take him to a professional.

I'm really curious as to how he can possibly hold down a job with such lack of hygiene, unless he works in heavy labor where everyone stinks to high heaven... but if he sweats all day, that would make his lack of bathing even worse.
posted by keep it under cover at 7:08 PM on February 24, 2009

I concur w/ those who suggest this is likely a mental health, or psychological issue. Some people w/ mental health/psych issues actually gain comfort from their own body odors and are very discomfited without them. This situation would be a deal-breaker for me in a marriage. I wonder that you married him with this issue. Perhaps it isn't as big an issue for you as it would be for most of us because you did, after all, marry him as he was. Did you believe he would change, did he give you reason to believe he would? If he will not go to therapy w/ you, I would suggest you discuss your situation, for your own sake, in therapy. I'm doubtful, given his clear dedication and accustomization to this way of living, that he will ever change.
posted by mumstheword at 8:30 PM on February 24, 2009

Something that might give you hope is this - if a person accustomed to not bathing much, their body gets used to it. So, it could actually hurt his skin to take a shower during the shower - like a painful itching sensation. His skin could be producing fewer oils than it would if he bathed regularly, so post-shower could also be painful and itchy due to dry skin. It could dry out his scalp and hair to shower.

If showering is painful, this might make him think showering is bad for him, so that even though he recognizes it's abnormal to shower infrequently, he may believe that he must make an exception for himself. Similarly, if showering is painful this might lead him to have a strong, years-reinforced aversion to showering from behavioral training (take shower --> pain, so avoid taking a shower). If pain from showering is the root of his problem, there is hope, because if he simply starts bathing every day or every other day, his body will adjust to it (after a potentially painful, crappy period of shock). Showers WILL become less painful, more enjoyable. He'll grow to recognize his own scent in a new way and be able to sense (via smell and touching his own skin) when he needs to clean up again.

Just so you and your husband know, this is based on my own childhood experience of having a painful year or so of dry skin, avoiding the shower, and finally pushing through and readjusting. It was well worth it and I can't imagine showering as little as I did then (about every other week, with a couple stretches of a month between thrown in - I know, ew). Make sure he has plenty of unscented moisturizers for after the shower, because he'll need them, and make sure the water is not hot. Soap can be introduced later, if at all. Scrubbing may actually help him adjust or may not, so I'd be sensitive to how much of that he does.

As someone upthread commented, the most important thing you can do is ask him what the problem is. I'd specifically ask if showers are uncomfortable for him, and see exactly how he goes about showering - maybe he does something in there that's unpleasant in and of itself.
posted by lorrer at 9:15 AM on February 25, 2009

Oh, and look into whether he has a skin condition like Keratosis Pilaris, which can exacerbate dry, itchy skin. Showering and scrubbing actually help that condition go away, as does tanning and some acidic lotions. Other skin problems may be at work as well if he does in fact have pain or dryness associated with showering. Might be a good idea to go to the dermatologist with him to help get things sorted out.
posted by lorrer at 9:21 AM on February 25, 2009

Oh, and if brushing is a problem for him due to pain, look into getting him a water pick. He can use that two or three times a day on the lowest setting and increase the setting each time a particular setting gets comfortable. I assume he has pain and bleeding when he brushes if it's only once every other week. This will help the pain and bleeding go away.
posted by lorrer at 9:24 AM on February 25, 2009

This is something that you should have negotiated before the marriage.
posted by hworth at 10:01 AM on February 25, 2009

second the DTMFA
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:16 PM on February 25, 2009

« Older DHS stopped shipment, now what?   |   Should I be concerned about ID theft with 1099... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.