Stinky and Kissing don’t go together.
A while ago I started a series on kissing, and got sidetracked by some huge news stories in evangelicalism (like the terrible article up at The Gospel Coalition, or Jonathan Pokluda objectifying women in a sermon).
I have a few more things I’d like to say about kissing, and I hope to do that this week before we turn to some amazing findings in our new book She Deserves Better next week (and you can pre-order the book now!).
When I wrote about 7 reasons kissing can fall to the wayside, so many of you mentioned that the big one was your husband’s bad breath or body odor.
Just a few comments I got:
rarely brushed, bathed infrequently. I bought him cologne, he wouldn’t use it.
*two hints, y’all- Brushing your teeth is great but it alone is not foreplay.
Burping while going in for a kiss is really gross. Breathe that nasty breath out first.
Ugh…..I’ve nicely told my husband I thoroughly enjoy kissing more when he has freshly brushed but it didn’t seem to work. He apparently thinks eating breath mints is the answer. I swear he pops one in his mouth and chews it up like candy. He doesn’t even suck on it long enough to help with his breath and then of course there’s the nasty film on his teeth from not brushing. Ewww
I don’t really remember thinking about it much before being a hygienist but afterward… OMG! Sometimes just thinking of dental biofilm (bacteria) and whatnot in the mouth makes me a bit uneasy about kissing still. I literally won’t kiss my husband without both of us being freshly brushed, flossed and rinsed. I know it was a REALLY touchy discussion in the beginning of our relationship… but like, if you WANT me to WANT to kiss, then this is what has to happen.
Oh, the dirty mouths I have seen during my dental career… makes me wonder if those people made out with their spouses. Blah.
So what do you do if your husband chronically smells bad, and that makes kissing and sex really distasteful?
First, a general thing: You need to tell him he stinks.
Yes, you can do that in a “not mean” way, but you must be direct.
I think we fear that it sounds rude to say, and so we often don’t say. But what’s worse: Not touching him, avoiding his kisses, and scooching over as far as you can to your side of the bed, often for years on end, or causing some potential embarrassment and awkwardness now?
Like, if he starts to kiss you and he smells bad, instead of just pulling away, pull away and say, “you need to brush your teeth!”, or “you need to shower first!”
Give him a reason that you don’t want to kiss him that isn’t about you being angry at him.
It’s also worth exploring what the nature of the issue is: Is it simply his general laziness towards his hygiene, or is this actually him not caring about your feelings and perspective?
A. Is the issue laziness over hygiene?
Perhaps it’s not a deliberate thing, where he doesn’t care about hygiene, but that he genuinely just forgets because he has really bad hygiene habits.
He apologizes when you tell him to brush his teeth, but it never seems to make a dent and he keeps doing it anyway.
Some general thoughts on that:
1. Hygiene is so much easier when it’s routine
I shower every single morning after the blog post goes up or I’ve done about two hours of work. That’s really the start of my day. Around 9:00 I go upstairs, shower, and get dressed.
In fact, every single day I do it in that order: shower and get dressed. Maybe–maybe–once a year I get dressed without showering. To me, showering is like some people experience their morning coffee. (I hate coffee). It signals that the day has begun, and it wakes me up.
Showering is so tied to getting dressed that I can’t not do it.
Similarly, the very first thing I do every morning is brush my teeth, and the very last thing I do every night is brush my teeth and floss and use mouthwash. I can’t not do those things. It wouldn’t feel right.
And that’s what you want–you want hygiene to be routine, not something you do when you “think about it.” When it’s routine, then you don’t have to think about it. It just gets done because it feels normal.
So if your husband has really bad hygiene, a good question to ask is, “could we do different routines?”
If you want him to shower everyday, for instance, what time of day would make most sense, that it could become routine and he could always do it at that time?
Maybe it’s before he gets into bed. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s right before dinner (that one is harder, because some days you may be out all day, and then he may not have time to shower).
If he grew up in a house with only one shower and everyone was always jockeying for it, then he may never have gotten into the habit of having a shower at the same time everyday. But if you can establish that now, then it can help.
And at night–can you brush and floss together? At the same time?
2. Remember to teach your kids this routine!
If you want your children to have good hygiene, it’s best for them, once they hit high school, to have regular showering routines too at the same time everyday, so it doesn’t feel optional. It sets them up much better long-term!
3. Sometimes we need more than just general hygiene
Especially with bad breath, there may be more going on that simple brushing can’t fix. Good, regular dental care is also very important. I know that can be costly, but if this is a chronic problem that is destroying your sex life, it’s worth diverting money towards it, even if it’s just for him.
Sometimes, too, bad breath can be caused by chronic sinus issues that result in someone “mouth breathing”, so that the mouth dries out and bacteria has more chance to grow. If that’s the case, see a doctor, use lots of humidifiers, and look into ways to open up the sinuses.
4. Bad hygiene can be a sign of something else
Poor mental health and depression can also be a reason that hygiene falls (thanks for a reader for reminding me!). If your husband used to have better hygiene, or if his overall mood has changed, then seeking medical help may also be warranted.
B. When your husband’s bad hygiene isn’t laziness, but inconsideration
Other times, though, it doesn’t seem like the problem is laziness; it may seem like he genuinely doesn’t care, and gets upset at you for calling him out. And he won’t shower and brush his teeth, no matter what you do.
That’s when you have to ask, “what is it reasonable for me to expect and what am I willing to live with?” And set those boundaries.
It’s okay to set boundaries around kissing and bad hygiene.
Just make them known! You can say, “Hey, I’m not going to kiss you unless you’ve brushed your teeth first” (if his breath is chronically bad), or “I won’t kiss you after you come home from work until you’ve had a shower”, or whatever is appropriate for the situation.
Or if the problem is smoking: “I’m not kissing you after you’ve been smoking. You need to change your clothes and brush well.”
You can even say, “I’m not sleeping in bed with you unless you’ve had a shower” if his body odor is really bad, or even, “You can’t climb into bed with me unless you’ve showered.”
If he consistently bristles at your boundaries, or tries to go past your boundaries, then this is no longer a hygiene issue but a marriage issue, and you may benefit from seeing a licensed counselor to talk this over with and to figure out how to proceed.
Sometimes people get super defensive because of their own woundings and insecurities. There may be a very logical reason that he’s reacting the way he is. But it’s still an unhealthy dynamic that does need to be dealt with, and if you can process this with somebody, or better still, have him also talk with someone about why this is so problematic, that’s worth doing.
A counselor may also be able to help you identify any signs if the relationship is becoming toxic or abusive, and help you make an appropriate game plan.
What if YOU’RE the one with the bad hygiene?
If your spouse tells you that you stink, take all the steps in this article to keep good hygiene–frequent brushing and flossing and good dental care; frequent showering, etc.
If you find that your spouse is picking at you in this area, and they also pick at you in other areas, this may not be a hygiene issue but an issue of control. If you find your spouse is the only one who ever notices bad hygiene, and you do have a good hygiene routine, this may also be something worth talking with a counselor about.
You may also be married to someone with major sensitivities, and then it’s good to figure out what would make them feel comfortable. If absolutely nothing will, then they may be avoiding you for other reasons, and again, a counselor may help you with this.
When you have bad hygiene, you often don’t realize how much it affects others.
You may have grown up not thinking that hygiene is important, and not realizing how other people experience you. And so, if a spouse makes this an issue, it’s easy to paint that spouse as unloving or ungracious.
But people do stink. This is an issue that affects so many. And if it isn’t dealt with, it just causes more and more distance between you, because one person is so terrible to be near.
So talk about it openly, even if it’s hard. Create routines that you can do together or encourage your spouse to start. And figure out what your own boundaries are. It’s okay to expect decent hygiene in a spouse, and I’m sorry that any of you are dealing with this super awkward problem!
Have you ever dealt with this problem? What did you do? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Kissing Series
- 7 Reasons We Stop Kissing
- Sometimes Kissing Needs to Just Be Kissing
- What If Your Spouse Has Terrible Hygiene
- How to Kiss in a Way You Both Enjoy (coming soon)
And then there are those of us with spouses who had undiagnosed depression, and we were direct and kind about talking about this issue but it still didn’t land. We are all human and stink and need to care for ourselves! But if the spouse takes those natural moments of being told they need to brush before kissing and they take it as a personal insult like you are shaming them (rather than a common human thing that we all need to pay attention to) then that can be a problem. I often wondered if he was just being really inconsiderate because he so often ignored my gentle nudges to creating better smells (asking him to brush his teeth or washing his feet together with mine in a fun way!) .. just .. no.. he took it as me being mean to him. I finally had given up saying anything after a decade, and it wasn’t until his HR at work spoke to him that he started paying attention to hygiene! How embarrassing is that?! That another coworker had to go to HR to get them to finally say something to him. If that were me, I would be mortified! But, yeah, he didn’t believe me or thought I was too sensitive to smells or he was too depressed to care about taking care of himself I guess. I don’t know. It does NOT need to be that complicated though! We all stink and we all need to clean up!
I find it interesting that sometimes just cleaning myself helps me deal with my own body issues. It feels nice to feel and look nice.
No one needs to suffer through being with a spouse who smells, bad hygiene habits, laziness, or mental health problems don’t mean another person has to suffer and just deal with it. It is always okay to say no to any advances if they stink, and its okay to tell them they don’t smell nice, if they don’t change then they can’t expect you to just grin and bear it. It often seems like people don’t think its kind to say no to a spouse when it is a mental health issue, like depression, but metal health doesn’t get a pass card, they still have to deal with their own stuff.
I have an extremely sensitive sense of smell, my family calls me the bloodhound. My husband knows this, and he takes pains to be clean with fresh breath because I will not engage with him if anything smells less than fresh. I also do not enjoy being with someone if I have not had a chance to shower or make sure my teeth are clean because I can smell my own stale breath. I drink a lot of coffee, I have to brush often.
Showers are relaxing for me, I don’t feel good about myself if I am not clean.
One thought about possibly overlapping issues (i.e., body image issues). I remember reading an article a long time ago that recommended mindful bathing/showering. Instead of rushing through the routine and averting ones eyes fron any nearby mirrors, the author suggested washing slowly, noticing each body part and thanking it. For example, telling yourself,”Thank you legs, for being strong enough to carry me where I need to go today,” instead of, “I can’t believe how horrible this cellulite looks.” I know that I become less likely to take good care of my body during periods when I feel bad about myself, because I have gained a bit of weight or “suddenly” noticed signs that I am getting older. While I believe body image issues are much more prevalent in women, it is possible they could also be impacting our husbands.
This is good advice. When we were first married my husband would want to kiss in the morning before we brushed our teeth and it really grossed me out. I started asking him to brush his teeth first. It did hurt his feelings at first, but I was able to explain it wasn’t personal, I just enjoyed it so much more when we both smelled good. Now we are both in the habit of brushing our teeth or showering first when we want to get something going. We’ve had little ones for years so there are still times one or both of us is so tired that we fall into bed without brushing our teeth. But on those nights I hear the sink running, it’s a total turn on now!
Also, facial hair can smell after eating even if your breath isn’t bad. I’ve noticed butter and cheese can make facial hair smell really bad. It takes less than a minute to do a quick wash at the sink.
Not married, but I’ve thought about this. I am a night showerer, have been since a child and am hypersensitive to certain stimuli. I would not be able to sleep next to someone who had not showered before bed. I would lie there thinking about all the dirt, pollutants and allergens that he had come into contact with that day, just by walking around outside or in the office (lots of bacteria in an office eg coworkers sneezing all over the place) that would now be all over our sheets and possibly triggering my allergies. I would be physically uncomfortable, would not sleep and would think of nothing but waking him up to shower. If I married someone unwilling to shower before bed, I would be adamant that we sleep separately (with conjugal visits contingent on his showering!)
I genuinely do suffer from a couple of OCD-related disorders so this totally could just be me. But then again, perhaps not!
Another issue is skin health. Depending on what he uses to clean with, he might be damaging his skin. Then he’ll need to give his skin time to recover between showers…or switch to better products. And maybe non-chlorinated water.
It’s the same for teeth. You can clean your mouth in a way that damages your enamel and/or gums. Or clean in a way that just cleans, without causing damage in the process.
But regardless of the reasons why, if he stinks, he stinks. And it’s perfectly ok for you to not want to experience that stink first-hand.
“When it’s routine, then you don’t have to think about it. It just gets done because it feels normal.”
*laughs in ADHD*
Some of us don’t have reliable auto-pilot systems.:)
For real though, there are so many reasons a person may have difficulty keeping up with a hygiene routine – like the sensory issues, executive function paralysis, time blindness, working memory issues that can come with neurodiversity, or not having the spoons for it due to chronic illness or mental health issues. (Or exhaustion from current life circumstances… I see you, new moms!) Advice that might work for a neurotypical or non-disabled people often doesn’t address the actual barriers. It’s the same stuff we’ve heard over and over, while being mislabeled as “lazy,” that never worked when we tried it.
I still 100% believe in the boundaries and honest conversations part. You don’t have to obligation-kiss someone when it grosses you out! And a loving spouse will care about how it impacts you.
But if someone wants to get better about these things and is struggling, it may be helpful to start with curiosity. There can be functional barriers that sound so silly at first when you tell them to someone with a different brain, body, or life experience. But if a person gives themselves permission to take their barriers seriously, they can actually start to make progress towards finding workable options.
For dental hygiene issues in particular, I recommend episode 15 of KC Davis’ podcast Struggle Care – 15: When Brushing Your Teeth is Hard with Dr. Taylor McFarland DDS (https://www.strugglecare.com/podcast-rss/15)
PS…or if you’re dealing with a spouse who has some of these issues and tries to use their situation as a trump card to avoid dealing with it, ep. 20 might be helpful <3
As one who routinely moves around the byproducts of two horses and numerous cattle, please accept my advice that soap and water is your friend. Also, remember to remove your boots on the back porch.
My husbands bad breath was due to liver failure. Before we knew what was going on it was horrible, we thought halitosis or sinus infection but nothing fixed it. I slept turned away and as far away as I could in our queen bed. We had to stop our ballroom dancing classes and our sex life came to an end. 2 years go by and a few other terrible symptoms later he received a cryptogenic liver cirrhosis diagnosis. Total shock for us both. His transplant was in Nov 2020 (it went terribly but he lived) and now it’s been 2 years with no bad breath lol. We are wading through the byproducts of extensive hospitalizations for months and what that does to the body (ie inability to perform sexually) but he’s alive and for that I give thanks to the Lord.
OH, wow! I’m so glad he’s okay now. Thanks for reminding us there may be something else going on.