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!