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.
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.
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?