Advice: My partner doesn't wash

Last updated 05:00 30/05/2013

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Her partner refuses to wash, change his clothes, comb his hair or brush his teeth. Is he depressed?

Send your questions to lifeandstyle@stuff.co.nz, and remember to include a nickname if you don't want to be identified.

My partner has horrible sanitary habits and I don't know what to do. He showers only a couple times a month and never washes his hands (before eating or even after using the toilet). He wears the same clothes (including underwear) for a week straight. He doesn't brush his teeth or comb his hair.

We've been together for over two years, but for the first 1 1/2 years we lived in different towns so only saw each other every weekend. It turns out he would shower right before I got there so I didn't really notice until we moved in together six months ago.

I searched the internet for advice on dealing with partners with extreme body odour. I tried everything I found. I bought him great smelling deodorant and body wash. I gave it to him and said I loved how it smelled. He kind of uses the body wash, but not very well. He rarely uses the deodorant and then only sprays it around him like a cologne. I asked him if he wanted to take a shower with me (I was sure that would work). He said no. I tried very gently mentioning he didn't smell very good when he wrapped me in a bear hug. He got offended and snapped "I'M A MAN!" at me.

I stopped washing his clothes for him to see what would happen. He just keeps wearing the same ones without washing them. I swear they can stand up and walk on their own now. And I won't get into his complete refusal to help clean anything in the house. (I stopped washing dishes at one point and they just kept piling up until there were none left.)

He hates his job and I can't help but wonder if he's severely depressed. I talked to our doctor but unfortunately unless you're suicidal or need hospitalisation, psychology visits are out of our own pocket (several hundred dollars we don't have).

I can't imagine life without him. I love him so much even business trips away are torture. But now I don't know how I can live with him either. I'm  so lost. What can I do?

Hopeless

What you are describing is concerning. As well as not looking after himself, it does not sound like this man you love is looking after you either. He is depressed and not responding to you, and you are feeling increasingly hopeless about the situation.

There are ways that he doesn't value himself - if he valued himself he would treat himself with respect, not neglect. There are also ways that you could value more of who you are, and this includes not accepting living in an ongoing way with these behaviours from him.

It is time for a courageous conversation. But first a couple of safety checks - is your relationship free of domestic violence?  Has he ever threatened you, intimidated you or hit you? If so you should get professional help to work this through. Contact your nearest Relationships Aotearoa Office so they can help you work through things in a safe way.

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If it is safe to have the conversation with him then here are some guidelines. Create a space and time in the day to have a conversation with him. Choose a time that you think will most support the conversation - so when he has just walked in the door from work is not the right time, but maybe after dinner or on the weekend sometime. Let him know that you want to talk with him about something that is really important to you.  Let him know that you love him and some things you enjoy about him. Then let him know that there is an issue you want to address, that the issue is that he is not washing enough and this is impacting on you and you need it to change. Let him know how 'not washing enough' affects you, and that it is getting in the way. Tell him how you want to be close to him and enjoy the relationship and ask him how you can work together so that 'not washing enough' doesn't create a barrier between you.

At some point it will be useful to clearly let him know what you want - eg that he showers every day, wears clean underwear every day, and washes his hands before meals and after going to the toilet. Be explicit and clear about what change you need. Ask him what might get in the way of doing these things and how you can work together to get around any barriers.

How might he react? You might find that he softens and opens to you and you can have a conversation exploring what all of this is about and means to both of you, and find yourselves closer in the process. Or you might find that he hardens and becomes defensive. If he does this stay gentle but firm. Let him know that it might be hard to hear these things, but that you love him and you are raising it because it's important and because you want to be closer
to him and it is getting in the way. See if you can talk it through together. Expect that he might be a bit defensive initially, this is perfectly natural. If he is defensive it will help that you don't react to this, stay hopeful and clear and encourage him to talk it through. If things escalate in a scary or blaming way don't persist, at that time it would pay to get some professional relationship help.

If this kind of conversation feels new to you it is ok to practice what you might say before you have the conversation, so it is easier to say at the time.

You have also expressed some dissatisfaction with the way domestic tasks are shared at home. You may want to consider having another conversation focused in this area. Generally it is good to talk about one issue at a time, so you might want to pick another time for this conversation.

Good luck,

Chris

For more advice and information on counselling, visit Relationships Aotearoa online or join them on Facebook.

We'd love to hear your take on this week's issue. Before you comment below, though, remember that this is a real-life situation. This reader has bravely shared their personal life with you; please show them respect by refraining from hurtful or abusive comments.


- © Fairfax NZ News

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