Husband Refuses to Maintain Personal Hygiene

Reader’s Question

I have struggled with depression since I was a young child, suicidal depression. I was abused in every sense of the word by my mother, godparents, sister, brother-in-law; you name it, I went through it. But around ’87 I thought that things were going to change. I struggled financially, worked, took care of a two-year-old daughter, and then I met this guy who I thought would change my life.

Well, we have been together now for over twenty years, but the abuse has continued. Why? Because of his hygiene. I noticed that he would not wash up or take a shower for days at a time, and also the plaque on his teeth was disgusting. We are talking about a man who would chew his food and then call me to look at him, and when I did, he would open up his mouth so that I could see the disgust there. One time it made me throw up. I never met anyone who ever did that. Anyway, as the years went by, I would notice more and more that he needed to shower, but he never did. Finally I went to him, and because I know how sensitive people can be when they are told that they stink, I asked him to come on and take a shower with me. He would decline stating that what if one of the kids walked in on us? At the time my daughter (from a previous relationship) was about 7 and my son about three. That sounded crazy but I said OK, I’ll go with that for now. But then there were times that the kids were over at relatives’ homes, and still he did not want to shower with me. I went to my doctor and asked him what could happen if my husband and I became intimate and he refused to wash up before that. He told me that I run the risk of ending up with an infection, so see if I could talk my husband into taking a shower beforehand.

Nothing I tried worked. Then, back in 2003, I got so exhasperated that I just blurted out to him “why don’t you want to shower?” He said that there were more important things going on than worrying about that. He then told me a few days later that he did not love me anymore. After that, he told me that he had an affair and had no need to be with me, but then he said he felt guilty about having the affair so that is why he felt the need to tell me the truth when I asked him if he was.

I was going to try to kill myself after that “confession” but one of my friends called me up and came and got me. I set up appointments with psycologists and my husband would drive me to the places to talk about my feelings and try to help me through it. I asked my husband a few months later why did he not want to take showers even after I said something. And I did not say it like “ewwwwwwwwww, you stink!” He told me that after I said something to him about his hygiene, that he figured, “OK, she feels this way, then I will wait a few more days to shower.” He did that on purpose, all because I wanted to be intimate with him.

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In 2005, things escalated as I found out more and more about the things that he had been doing, and in the midst of that, found out that he not only lied about having the affair, that he was not going to tell me the truth either. I asked him why then, did he drive me to therapy, and he said, “to help you get over the affair”. But, he never had an affair, he made the whole thing up to try to make me jealous. No women were looking at him, but he saw the men looking at me. He stinks all the time, his breath is so bad that when he sleeps even after [eventually] washing it, the smell of his bad breath literally fills the room and it makes his hair look greasy and feel nasty.

Well one day a few months back he said to me, “please let me know when I need to take a shower.” I told him no way was I falling for that again, and he said that he would not think that I was being critical, that he knows now that I was not trying to before, that he knows that he is being lazy when it comes to washing himself and keeping clean. Well, I took him up on that and a couple of weeks later, I did let him know, just as he asked, and he turned around and got so ANGRY with me because I did as he asked me to.

I don’t know what else to do. I am depressed, can’t stop thinking, my mind is racing, I tried everything that I know how to try to get him to shower, but he will not. He looks like he’s eight months pregnant, skin always looks sweaty and clammy, and again, when I say something about his hygiene, he says that there are other things more important than that.

It does not matter if we are being intimate or not, he just will not do it. I have tried everything and because he refuses to shower except every few WEEKS, and also with me being ill, I have pretty much given up on the sex. He does not care if he makes others sick to the stomach; he is a cop and works around people for hours and there is no way that any of those people there can say that they have not smelled his stink after all of these years. I am literally at my wits’ end. Right now I am here, alone with my pets, and so fed up and depressed. I’m tired, I’m weary, tired of crying, tired of trying. I feel as if I have nothing going for me anymore. I used to have a beautiful figure, now because of the depressed state of mind that I have been in these past few years, I am overweight by about 40 pounds. I just don’t know what else to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

Every culture has expectations for personal hygiene. A refusal to meet the minimum standards/expectations in a culture is typically found in individuals with personality or mental health issues. In your husband’s case, his approach is very immature and clearly oppositional and passive-aggressive. He has developed a high tolerance for substandard personal hygiene, aggressively resists any attempt to improve his situation, and totally ignores the rights/sensitivities/requests of others around him. Sadly, he is totally selfish and self-justifying in his behavior so a change is highly unlikely. I’m sure he has some immature rationalization for his behavior, but in truth, it’s most-likely motivated by anger, resentment, and revenge. In his excuse, he’s actually angry and hostile to everyone around him and he’s getting his revenge by stinking.

His constant need to be physically disgusting is now exhausting you emotionally. I would consult your family physician and discuss the options for an antidepressant medication. Counseling would also be of help. You will need to rebuild your self-esteem and eliminate your depression before you consider options in the marriage. If you decide to leave, I would recommend an Exit Plan that may take several months, as described in my article on Identifying Losers in Relationships, available on this website.

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