“My husband [28M] and I [26F] met when I was 20. His hygiene was great and it was definitely something that attracted me to him. Even if I didn’t have diagnosed OCD, I know I would care a lot about hygiene. But the OCD makes it feel physically painful and anxiety-inducing to be around poor hygiene. I will admit that I am more sensitive to feeling “disgust” than other people due to my OCD.
My husband’s hygiene started to decline during a bout of unemployment right after we got married. I thought it would be temporary but the problems have only increased even though he has been employed for a few years now. He has an extreme case of dandruff and he showers every 2-3 days and goes a long time without haircuts. As a result, he ends up with greasy hair and flakes of dandruff and stray hairs that get all over the house. He’s balding (which I am fine with, I understand that when you marry young you sign up for appearance changing over time, this is much easier to accept than poor hygiene) but he’s very upset about it; as a result, doesn’t put any effort into the hair he has left. He usually has lint in his belly button. For a while, his oral hygiene was so poor that it always looked like there was popcorn in his teeth, but it was plaque and tartar. He has very thick saliva and when he talks there are spit strings that connect his upper and lower mouth. For a long time he smelled terrible and wouldn’t take it on himself to research body washes or deodorants that would help. I had to find both for him, and he still refuses to shower daily. I know lots of people don’t shower daily, but I think it depends on the individual. And if you smell or have dirty hair, it might be time to shower. This combination did help the smell, but the other problems remained.
I’ve tried to have conversations about this with him and I have even told him that his lack of proper hygiene is affecting my attraction to him. I am really struggling to kiss him. And even on days that I am turned on, being intimate with him is a turn off. But he is convinced that this is just my OCD and his hygiene habits are fine. I’m sure this escalates the problem, but I know even if I was cured I would still be bothered by this. His siblings have some of the poorest hygiene of anyone I’ve spent time with even though his parents take great care of themselves. So I feel like his perception is warped by comparison. He’s frustrated at our declining sex life (and so am I! I love him but I don’t want to imagine going the rest of my life without having sex with a partner who I feel turned on by!) He says nobody at work has mentioned bad hygiene so it must be my own personal issue but like… who would confront a coworker about dandruff, plaque, and spit strings?”
Anonymous on /r/relationship_advice.
Prochaska and DiClemente from the University of Rhode Island developed something called a transtheoretical model, which is sometimes referred to as stages of change. Prochaska and DiClemente theorized that there six prominent steps to people who enact change upon their lives.
The first stage is Precontemplation. In precontemplation, people do not consider change as a viable option. Instead, they are in strict denial or unaware of the problem at hand. People in this stage of behavior change struggle by overestimating the hassle of implementing a change against the absence of consequences.
Contemplation immediately follows precontemplation. This is a stage where people become more and more aware of their problematic behavior and start investing more time and energy into assessing the pros and cons of change. Many in this stage find that the ambivalence and uncertainly greatly aggravate the cons column in their assessment. As a result, many fail to make it past this initial assessment phase.
In the third stage of Preparation (or Determination), people start taking very small and minute steps to set intentions and start on healthier behavior patterns. The timeframe of the preparation phase is sometimes defined as the first six months of new pattern of behavior. It is in this phase where people can gather more data about the pros and cons they’ve outlined during the previous contemplation phase.
Once they’ve gathered enough data, most move on to Action. This stage is largely defined by making a long-term habit out of short-term behaviors either by correcting their old problem behaviors or investing in new healthier behaviors. Support and reinforcement are very valuable in this stage of change as the immediate results of changed behavior is not always readily apparent.
Maintenance immediately follows Action, and it is a low-key, long-term sustenance of the changed behavior. The endorphins of initial stages have subsided. One of the pitfalls of this stage is that it is ripe with temptation to revert back to old behavior. So developing coping strategies in triggering situations or managing positive feedback loops so that they can reward themselves for good behavior is necessary to making a lifestyle out of just a decision to change.
Then the stages of change go in two different directions. Succumbing to those temptation leads to Relapse. Relapse is very common and it is also not as devastating as it initially appears. It is important to take a step back and analyze the circumstances around the relapse experience to see if there’s anything they can do to avoid such future temptations or enabling experiences. Then it is important to regroup, then start back up at the pre-/contemplation phase of the stages of change. If they were able to rid themselves of the problematic behavior for good, then they would be at the Termination stage.
Now let’s get back to where we were. It could be very possible that your husband has been adamantly stuck in his precontemplation phase for years. He does not recognize that he has a hygiene issue, which is propped up by his enabling family history and supported by his previous behavior patterns following unemployment. And his refusal to acknowledge also appears to be feeding back into your self-affirmation and self-doubt that your OCD could be the problem. Instead of acknowledging that he has a problem, he is deflecting blame onto you for your diagnosed mental illness because it is just easier to do so. Don’t allow him to manipulate you into thinking that he doesn’t have a hygiene problem. I don’t know if he is doing that intentionally or accidentally, but his toxic deflective behavior needs to stop. His manipulation needs to stop.
My partners and I all agree that not showering for two to three days (outside of extreme circumstances) is subjectively filthy. But his hygiene issues need not be an objective problem. If it is a problem for you, the next step is for you to establish boundaries. And it sounds like you already did, repeatedly, when you told him that his lack of basic hygiene is driving a wedge into your relationship with him. So you have to be prepared for the next step: escalation and boundary enforcement.
It might be beneficial for you to reiterate your boundaries in no uncertain terms. Perhaps even get the boundary/agreement in writing. If you do not feel comfortable kissing him while his teeth is full of plaque and tartar, then tell him that he may not kiss you unless he properly brushes his teeth first. If you do not feel comfortable being intimate with him while he still has greasy hair, tell him that you will not sleep with him unless he has showered in the last X hours. If you do not feel good around him while he refuses to put on deodorant, tell him you will not occupy the same room with him. Lay out your boundaries in clear and certain terms that outlines what the boundary is and what the consequences are for violations of your boundaries. Then follow through on your boundaries if/when he violates them by enacting the consequences you’ve outlined for him.
Boundary enforcement is going to feel radical at first because we are so heavily conditioned by our society that we are to please our partners at all costs. But you have to acknowledge and value your own sanity and well-being as well. If he really does commit to changing his hygiene habits, then be sure to acknowledge his progress, celebrate his accomplishments, and support him in his recovery from a toxic habit.
Let us take a wild leap of faith and assume that he really doesn’t have a hygiene problem, and that your OCD is entirely at fault. Then why is it not a compassionate thing to help manage his partner’s OCD by taking a better care of himself anyway? What does he have to lose by taking a better care of himself? What is at cost here? How out of touch is he to neglect his own well-being and even delegate responsibilities to have you look for his own deodorants? That all sounded so weird to me after I laid it all out.
And how long will you continue to enable this toxic behavioral pattern for the sake of love?
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at email@example.com.