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My wife and I have been living together for about three years now (we just got married under a year ago). Recently, I have been having several issues regarding my wife’s personal hygiene. I’m looking for ways to talk to her about these issues without being hurtful or offending her.

My wife has severe anxiety and depression. She is currently in therapy and on medication for both, which have certainly helped, but not truly solved the root causes of her poor mental and emotional state.

Personal hygiene

I think my wife has a hygiene/manner problem. Here are some of the most prominent issues:

  • She often scratches her crotch and then sniffs her fingers.
  • She sometimes picks her nose and eats her own boogers.
  • She sometimes blows her nose on her bare hands and licks all the snot off her palms.
  • She chews her food with her mouth open, making a lot of loud chewing and slurping noises.
  • She often burps out loud or passes gas audibly, including sometimes at the dinner table.
  • She doesn’t brush her teeth every day.
  • She often goes 4 to 5 days without taking a shower, just changing her underwear every few days.
    And yes, I do still love her despite all this: they're prominent 'flaws' but she is much more than those: She's also loving, sweet, caring, cute and treats me very well.

As gross as the first three things are, my biggest problem isn't necessarily that they are happening in the first place. Instead, the issue for me is that she is comfortable enough doing them in front of me. I would be OK with her doing whatever she wants as long as it’s in the bathroom or somewhere I can't see, because if I'm being honest, I also often clean my nose by picking it, just not in front of anyone.

As for the last two (showering and tooth-brushing), they are definitely fueled by her depression, I know. But her poor hygiene makes our bed, covers and pillows smell very bad and it sometimes even stinks up the whole room. And all of this has a pretty strong effect on me. I've found myself not wanting to kiss or even be near my wife sometimes because of her bad breath or B.O.

Progression over time

Some of these behaviors were already taking place when we moved in together, namely the crotch scratching and nose picking. I was absolutely baffled she did them in the first place and just never had the courage to bring it up directly. I also noted some of the issues with her poor table manners pretty early on, but it seems like the biggest one of those (chewing with her mouth open and making noises) has gotten worse over time, especially over this last year.

Her oral hygiene and showing habits used to be perfectly normal: she used to brush her teeth and shower every day. But as she has fallen deeper into her depression, the average intervals between these occurrences have only increased.

What I've done thus far

My efforts to curb these behaviors have been quite indirect. For example, when I notice she's picking her nose next to me, I gently nudge her to stop by asking "Do you want some tissues?" She usually takes the hint and stops, sometimes accepting the tissue paper and other times just saying “No thanks.”

With showers, I usually try to frame things in terms of us as a couple: "Wow, we're really sweaty, we should take a shower. Want to go first?" This works sometimes, but other times she just weasels out of it by saying "I'll take one later" and just never doing so. When the showering situation is super dire (i.e., she hasn't showered in several days), there are times when I just go up to her and directly ask "Can you please take a shower?" and she does.

With respect to her burping and farting, my approach is quite different. I just don't acknowledge anything. Sometimes, after passing gas audibly, she might just laugh and announce "I farted" as if it was something I'd laugh at too. However, instead of joining in the comical moment, I just do not react at all and don't budge. I just pretend I didn't hear anything. This hasn't yielded any results, but I just don't know what to do here.

While some of these approaches do help in addressing the problems in the moment, they don't do much to change these general behaviors. I don't want to have to ask her to please go take a shower on a daily basis.

One approach I took before that really helped was with respect to one of the table manner issues: She would rather eat on the couch in front of the TV while I prefer eating at the dinner table with the TV turned off. At one point, we had a conversation where I explained why I liked sitting down at the dinner table with the TV turned off and why I liked waiting for her to be done eating before leaving the table (and why I'd like her to do the same). I also explained that dinner time with family had an important cultural meaning for me that I really wanted to continue even if our "family" was just the two of us. This yielded amazing results: we now always turn the TV off during dinner, we don't bring our phones to the table and most times she remembers to stay at the table before I'm done eating. Every now and again she forgets and gets up before I'm done, but all I need to do is kindly ask her to come back to the table and she does so happily.

This approach seems like the best one to take, but I'm not exactly sure how to translate my feelings about her nose picking and farting into these "this is why this is important to me" terms.

What I would like to avoid

If she’s already quite depressed, it seems impossible to talk about this. Also, it just seems incredibly awkward to have to say “Hey, honey. We need to talk about your personal hygiene.”, so I'd like to avoid that.

Sometimes this has made me feel like I’m dealing with a teenager, and while I would like some of these behaviors to stop or change, I don't want to take the role of a parent, constantly saying "Stop chewing with your mouth open!" or "When was your last shower?" or even "Did you brush your teeth already?" I don’t want to be my wife’s parent – I want to be her partner.

Question

How do I talk to my wife about these behaviors and let her know that they make me uncomfortable? Won't the number of problems/issues I bring up be too much to handle in one single conversation? How do I engage her in conversation about this incredibly awkward subject without being hurtful?

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    Hi there, welcome to IPS. Without disclosing much or more than needed, can you please tell us, if he knows, what her therapist says about those hygiene issues ? And what does she answer when mentioned ? Also: you never noticed these issues before, in the past 3 years ? Is it a new thing ?
    – OldPadawan
    Jul 25 at 4:59
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    i think this is a really well-constructed post, especially for a newbie Jul 26 at 9:10
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    @poorboy I gave your question one pretty big last edit, mainly to focus it a bit less on all the things your wife does/doesn't do wrong, and bring the things you did/struggle with a bit more to the foreground. While it may have been therapeutic to write about these things, I did remove some bit that were mostly just chatter/thinking out loud, and tried to really focus on you, your approach and your questions. I hope you're okay with it, if not feel free to edit some more but... please don't turn it into the huge wall of text and thoughts it was? :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 26 at 16:55
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    Thanks @Tinkeringbell for the cleanup, I appreciate the streamlining! I did make a few very minor edits, but nothing major.
    – poorboy
    Jul 27 at 23:42
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    And @bigbadmouse: I appreciate your concern, but it's alright. The therapeutic element of it was writing this down somewhere - anywhere. I have the full "unedited" version on a word file on my computer. That's the most important thing I needed from a therapeutic standpoint. The goal now is to actually get help with how to address the issues I pointed out in my post. But really, thank you for your concern =)
    – poorboy
    Jul 27 at 23:42
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Item by item.

Crotch grabbing is fairly culturally normal, because genitals are often itchy.

Per this article, many do it.

https://www.womenshealthmag.com/relationships/a19923835/why-men-touch-their-junk-so-much/

Nose picking and eating is a normal behaviour the majority do.

https://old.reddit.com/r/relationship_advice/comments/ijn5h9/caught_bf_eating_boogerswhat_do_i_do/

Not cleaning your teeth is bad, and not good romantic behaviour.

Not washing is bad behaviour, and not romantic behaviour.

Per this article, eating with your mouth open is widely regarded as disgusting.

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/food-manner-mouth-open-a7715411.html

Burping is fairly acceptable among most, but farting, especially at dinner or in bed, is seen as worse.

https://old.reddit.com/r/relationships/comments/2x129k/my_wife_30f_farts_and_burps_constantly_puts_me/

The more you criticize your partner, the less likely they are to change. So, be wary of how much you push. Think carefully which of these behaviours are ones you have to change, and which ones you want to change.

The standard advise for communication is to focus on the present and your feelings.

Unfortunately, this often clouds the issue and makes finding mutual understanding and a solution to the current issue less likely, and makes the whole discussion more taxing and even confusing. Try not to bring up past hurts or other topics. Stay focused on the present, your feelings, understanding one another, and finding a solution.

So, you could say for example. "When you don't clean your teeth and don't wash, your breath and body smells and I don't want to kiss you. Please could you clean your teeth regularly and wash with soap, because I find you sexy and want to be with you."

You should listen to her carefully. If she's depressed, it may be too much effort for her to brush her teeth regularly or shower regularly. As such, you could get her an electric toothbrush, which makes brushing easier, or run her a bath.

If it hurts her to not fart, you could help her to the toilet more often. She may well have reasons for her actions you can aid with.

Edit. A guide on talking.

"When you pick your nose and eat your boogers in front of me, it makes me feel a bit disgusted and put off, and that drives me away from you."

This was your suggested way of phrasing it. Some notes.

  1. She's not making you feel anything. She can't control your emotions. Be careful when talking about feelings not to blame the other person for your feelings. Say something like "When you pick your nose in front of me and eat your boogers, I feel disgusted."

  2. She's not driving you away. Don't blame her for your own behaviour when you talk to her. You're a grown up adult, you can do whatever you want to do including stay or leave. Talk about your feelings, not about how she is forcing you to do actions, unless she is physically forcing you.

  3. Try to be a bit positive initially. Rather than using negative words like disgusted say "I want to spend time with you less." and add positive things like "I'll want to cuddle you more if you avoid that."

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    Thanks for the response! I appreciate that you took the time to actually craft a response and find several related articles, but I feel your a lot of your answer misses the point. First of all, the problem with the crotch scratching isn't that she just scratches her crotch, but that she scratches it and then proceeds to sniff her fingers. Second, I mentioned that seeing her pick her nose and eat her boogers is very upsetting to me. Just saying "plenty of people do this" doesn't help me all that much.
    – poorboy
    Jul 27 at 23:27
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    Similarly, just saying "Not washing is bad behaviour, and not romantic behaviour." also doesn't give me much to work with.
    – poorboy
    Jul 27 at 23:31
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    Also, I agree with you that focusing on the present and my feelings would be the best way to make this work. The problem is that, since this is such a touchy subject, it seems impossible to have this conversation without being hurtful. I can't picture myself saying "When you pick your nose and eat your boogers in front of me, it makes me feel a bit disgusted and put off, and that drives me away from you." She is already depressed. I have the impression that hearing me say something like that will only make her feel worse.
    – poorboy
    Jul 27 at 23:44
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    I was noting that some of your items were personal peeves most people think you should just get over, and some were legitimately bad things people disliked. The more stuff you push the harder it will be, so think carefully before pushing too many things. On the second point, I'll write a guide on how to approach these topics tastefully. You shouldn't lie to her and tell her she is forcing you to feel things, no.
    – Nepene Nep
    Jul 28 at 9:16

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