feeling guilty but also angry

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-26-2007
feeling guilty but also angry
11
Thu, 09-16-2010 - 9:39am

This probably seems like a really superficial problem compared to a lot of other problems, and it started out really small but now it's become a serious issue.



Basically my boyfriend of four years is not as hygienic as I would like him to be. He is kind of the crunchy granola type, so I think that has something to do with it. He does not shower daily - instead probably every three days. For some people this probably wouldn't be a problem, but he is very active. He bikes, runs, walks and rock climbs on a regular basis, so he's sweating often. He also refuses to use deodorant on a regular basis (only when I ask him to) and as such the smell can get pretty bad. It's gotten bad enough that a mutual friend of ours has commented on it more than once. He will wear the same shirt (that he sweated in the day before) for several days, which makes it even worse. When I ask him to use deodorant or change his shirt, he will, but I really, really, really hate asking every single day. I hate nagging him to shower. He gets annoyed and it makes me feel like a bad person.



Also, his dental hygiene leaves much to be desired. He has not been to the dentist in probably three or four years. He brushes regularly and flosses semi-regularly, but despite this his teeth are yellowing and his breath is often bad. I tried the subtle hints - offering him gum or a mint. He refuses them. Then I tried

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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-24-2008
Thu, 09-16-2010 - 12:56pm

I don't think that's superficial and yes, I have some experience. Not with the showering issue, but with the teeth. My ex-husband stopped brushing daily shortly after we were married. We were together 11 years, married 9 years, and I'd say the last 8 years of our relationship he brushed irregularly, favoring soda and breakfast as a way to freshen his mouth in the morning. I tried nagging, he got angry. I tried helpful reminders, he saw that as nagging and got angry. I tried backing off, his teeth rotted.

Early on I was able to force him to go to the dentist to get cavities filled that were in the front teeth and very obvious. Once before his 10 year high school reunion and the next year before my 10 year high school reunion. After that, he wouldn't go for cleanings or cavities, he told me to get off his back. He went one other time during our marriage and that was shortly before the birth of our daughter because he got an abscess and was in a lot of pain with a swollen jaw. They got him in for an emergency appointment and pulled the tooth right away. He wouldn't go back for the cleaning, or to get a fake tooth put in. We didn't divorce for another 4 years. His teeth was not the only reason but I would be lying if I didn't admit that was a big problem for me. He cited it as a problem for him that I was leaving, that because of his rotting teeth and other things he had "let go" and refused to take responsibility for, he would have a harder time meeting anyone else if I divorced him. Well no kidding Sherlock. At that point I was just mad.

It's a tough spot to be in because if you nag, influence and control you are placed in a parental role in the relationship and he doesn't have to take responsibility. If you back off and treat him like an adult, you get a person you can't live with. You can't make him be what you want, you can't stand the way he is. It's hard to win.

I'd really recommend marriage counseling on the basis you are out of options and don't know what else to do. Don't minimize it. If you go to marriage counseling, they might be able to get the two of you out of this no-win parent-child dynamic you are stuck in.

In the end my ex did find someone else. And his teeth look worse than ever. I can't even describe them without making people want to puke, most of the time I try to not look at him directly when I speak to him.

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser."


John W. Gardner





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iVillage Member
Registered: 09-06-2007
Thu, 09-16-2010 - 2:24pm

I too was married to an unhygienic man. We lived in the same bunk house for work and I recall looking in his room and at how mess it was too. I shook my head. Yep I later married that guy.

He also had very plaquey teeth that just made me not want to kiss him. I'd request that he shower and brush before sex and sometimes he refused! He's get really mad when I suggest a shower or brushing, so in the end you cannot get him to change his hygiene habits. You cannot. He was also a crunchy granola wanna be type. We had separate beds, and his bed was always full of crunchy things. In rarely laid on his covers because it didn't know that those things were! He said it's just like camping. Not with me!

Next is, can you live like that for the rest of your life? If it's bugging you now, it's going to bug you more in 10 years. Really.

We divorced on other reasons, but I remember thinking I need to find a clean guy next with good teeth!

Well my current boyfriend of 2 years is very clean and it really makes a difference. Not in an OCD way. Even just sleeping next to him is more enjoyable! His teeth are perfect, but he brushes and flosses regularly. He keeps up on his appearance and health and I am grateful he does!

Bottom line: if it's bugging you now, you have to live with it or leave it. He's not changing.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Thu, 09-16-2010 - 8:42pm

I actually don't think this is a minor problem. I couldn't live w/ a person who didn't have the basic standards of hygeine of showering & brushing their teeth. Showering wouldn't have to be every day, but it would have to if they exercised. I wouldn't think you would have to remind an adult to use deodorant--the "crunchy granola" type of person could use all natural products if they don't like chemicals--I've heard that they make deodorant crystals. I would just be so turned off that I would have to leave that person.

Think about this--I'm a parent and from the time kids are born you have to teach them to wash up & brush their teeth. What if you had kids w/ this guy? You're saying to your kid to brush their teeth every night, which is reinforced in school & they look and say "but dad doesn't brush." This is actually more of a cosmetic problem. If people don't take care of their teeth, they will get cavities and maybe more serious problems. Dentists can also tell about health problems in other parts of the body which show up in the health of teeth & gums.

Also you say that your BF is a student--I suppose in class the prof really can't kick people out because they smell, but what kind of impression is he going to make when he tries to get a job?

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Fri, 09-17-2010 - 12:17am
Welcome to the board, Hello_molly ~

I don't think this is a minor problem and I don't think you're being unreasonable, not at all. I can understand that this would have started as a minor problem that became more serious, and I don't see this as doing anything but becoming more serious as time goes on. Imagine several years or even decades from now as he gets smellier and his teeth get rotty and he starts to lose them... how excited will you be to be with someone with putrid breath and body odor who's missing teeth? That's not an exaggeration, it's exactly what will happen unless he changes his ways, and honestly, I doubt that will happen.

Wanting to be with someone who maintains a basic level of cleanliness (changing clothes daily, showering when he smells) and maintains an adequate level of dental care (cleanings and check ups on a regular basis) isn't unreasonable, it should be a minimally standard expectation. Sure, you can make the argument that Europe isn't as fastidious as the U.S. is, but they don't wear the same clothes day after day and I'm willing to bet they shower after a workout. Regardless, your standard is what you require and quite honestly, I know of no one who would accept what you're describing. Not being able to smell him from across the room doesn't make him acceptable or you picky.

I think you need to sit him down and speak frankly and honestly with him. Tell him you're not willing to be with someone who smells or who has bad teeth and breath due to negligent dental care. Be black and white and tell him while you respect his desire not to wear deodorant, he should respect your desire not to be with someone smelly and it's his task to make sure he maintains an adequate level of cleanliness - both body and teeth. If he's not willing to do that, then he needs to pack his smelly things and move on. That may be more than you really want to do, and you certainly shouldn't suggest he leave if you're not willing to have that happen. However, it's only fair that he be fully aware of your specific complaints and that you will not accept this situation for the long term so that he has a fair chance to correct them. If he doesn't (and I doubt he will as it's how he prefers to live), sooner or later it will send you packing.

















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iVillage Member
Registered: 09-26-2007
Fri, 09-17-2010 - 7:39am

Thank you all for your responses. I kind of had a feeling the "take it or leave it" theme would be pretty prevalent.



We're moving in together next week for the first time (though we co-habitated for 4 months about a year ago over the summer, which was mostly conflict-free). He has promised that he will improve the showering thing when I move in. It remains to be seen if he will but at least he isn't adverse to to idea of changing. He seems more embarrassed than anything else.



I like the suggestion to get him a natural/organic deodorant. He really hates the stuff in supermarkets - does not like the smell, nor how it feels. Complains a lot about the chemicals in it. I'll buy him one of the natural crystal deodorants and see how that goes.



As far as the dentist/dental hygiene thing, he said the next time I see him (this evening) he will call the dentist and make an appointment in front of me. I plan on writing the date down in my schedule and doing my best to make sure he keeps it.



I think I'll give him some time to improve. He has gotten a bit better in recent months so I think him improving is possible. I know he's never going to be a clean-freak but I'd settle for something in the middle. We shall see if he makes progress... if not, I think a frank discussion about why this is becoming a dealbreaker for me will be the next step.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-13-2010
Fri, 09-17-2010 - 10:36am

Harmony!!! Were we married to the same man??! I could have written your post myself! I met my ex husband when I was 18 and he had nice teeth, and at 18 I thought he was a real gem! Fast forward ten years, and oh boy! Now while in the Army, they *made* him go to the dentist, but after that it was all downhill, and he simply stopped brushing. Who does that?? To this very day, I still cannot understand, WHY someone would not want to brush their teeth...



Over the years, my dh and I have dropped off the kids for Christmas/summer visits and we check out his teeth, and some have literally disappeared. I am wondering how painful that must have been..and like your ex, mine also gets dates! So this means that he gets girls (young ones) to kiss him..ACK!!!



For the OP, I am sorry you are in this difficult position..I know you love him, and I think seeking some outside advice would be helpful at this point.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-06-2007
Fri, 09-17-2010 - 11:40am

"He has promised that he will improve the showering thing when I move in."

I see an issue with this logic here. Is there any hurry to move in? I mean I'd have to SEE THE PROOF for a significant amount of time first, not promises that will happen after you move in. I worry that you'll be back here in two months very discouraged and kind of stuck with the living situation.

I dated a granola type in college. He used rosewater on his pits. However, he wasn't a stinky guy in general.

iVillage Member
Registered: 06-24-2008
Fri, 09-17-2010 - 12:37pm

"As far as the dentist/dental hygiene thing, he said the next time I see him (this evening) he will call the dentist and make an appointment in front of me. I plan on writing the date down in my schedule and doing my best to make sure he keeps it."

Here's the issue: it's not about the dentist appointment. It's about him only making one when someone is standing right there, and him only going when there's someone else to make sure he goes.

It's a parent-child relationship. Re-read your post and imagine you are the mom now, dealing with your teenage son. Can you see how it reads like that sort of relationship rather than a partnership? In a healthy relationship each person can stand on their own two feet. Then when they come together and they help each other it's not because the need it, it's because they want it. Parent-child relationships are about "have to" while romantic relationships are about "want to." If the only way he does it is when you are setting rules for him and enforcing those rules, it's a have-to not a want-to.

Parent-child relationships work when they are about parents and children. One person is the authority figure and the other is in the non-authority role, either rebellious or compliant. Adult relationships following that model don't work well even though it's an easy pattern to fall into. You only need one person to start it. When an adult relationship has one partner acting as the authority figure, the other partner will take on the child role, becoming either rebellious or complaint. When one partner in an adult relationship takes on the child role, the other becomes like the parent. What you were describing before about him lying that he went to the dentist, that was him being the rebellious-child. What you are describing now about these promises, even if he DOES follow through on them, he is in the complaint-child role. You appear to be accepting of the parental role in both cases. The only way to break free of this is to refuse to be his parent.

If it continues, this pattern will pervade your relationship in other ways. That's why I say it's not about the dentist appointment at all. It's about the way you relate to each other. In the end it doesn't work well for adult relationships to follow the parent-child pattern. The person in the authority role gets frustrated because they are always having to follow up on and check on the compliance of their mate, and sometimes have to deal with rebellion. It's a tough job. At least when you are really parenting you have years of mostly forced compliance, then some years where the child is learning to be self sufficient, then they leave (usually) and figure it out on their own one way or another. They develop however they develop, and eventually gain autonomy. Not so in an adult relationship, it just goes on and on struggling like that.

In an adult relationship, the person in the non-authority role is frustrated too, because they don't ever get a chance to stand on their own two feet and have things be the way they want, the way their life would be if they were on their own. They never reach that critical age, 18 or 21 or whatever, where they gain autonomy. Without autonomy, you don't have a health adult relationship because there is a lack of individual responsibility, one partner is responsible for the other.

So I say, as much as I don't like the way my ex-husband wanted to live his life (choosing not to brush his teeth) eventually his promises to be what I wanted sounded hollow. After 11 years together I figured out that he needed autonomy. I needed to stop being his parent. I really did feel like I was kicking my 33 year old son out of the house to learn to live his life. He's chosen to continue living it with rotted teeth, and so be it, it's his right. And totally as an aside, I really was okay with the way it was until our daughter came along. It was exhausting to parent a small child while also parenting a grown man. There were other things that led to the demise of our marriage though, this dynamic was only one of several problems we had. But enough of me.

People do much better when they change themselves for themselves. For you, that would be laying down the line between what is acceptable and what is not. If for you his level of hygiene is unacceptable, really unacceptable, then you have to state that and stand up for yourself. You will not be in a relationship where something that acceptable goes on every day. You will not find new and creative ways to cajole, influence and monitor him, instead you will focus on yourself, you will control what *you* do and not be in a relationship where that is happening, period, because it's so unacceptable to you. This is an example of using "I" language when communicating in relationships, the focus is on yourself. You can agree to counseling, you can agree to work on yourself while he works on himself, you can leave... but if you agree to become his mother you'll be facing more of what you have now.

If you can do that, then comes his turn. He has to decide all on his own if he wants to change for himself, because changing for himself might mean keeping you, something he wants. This puts you each in a position to be responsible for how you will conduct yourselves, and then you are both on equal *adult* footing.

It still may not work, but at least you aren't stuck in the parent-child pattern.

From there it'll depend on why he is this way. If there is some really deep rooted reasons he doesn't shower or go to the dentist, reasons that as yet may not even be clear to him, he may be pulled back to that behavior even though he doesn't want to be. Time will tell you if that's the case. He'll go back to procrastinating, excusing, pushing the envelope to see if you will really stand your ground and keep standing up for yourself. Likewise, you may feel compelled to cajole, influence and monitor his behavior even though you want to change. Those pulls can be strong, because they come from deep and long-held beliefs and inner patterns. For example, my need to be the parent in a relationship was very strong, I realized later after much therapy, it made me feel safe and secure. If he keeps getting pulled back into the child role and you keep getting pulled into a parental role, a marriage and family therapist could really help you with the myriad of reasons that may be happening.

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser."


John W. Gardner





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"The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding."
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iVillage Member
Registered: 06-24-2008
Fri, 09-17-2010 - 1:03pm

We do the same thing. Every now and then one of us will look and then ask the other if they saw the teeth. As much as I try not to look, sometimes it's like driving past a car crash and you just have to look. My ex used to have the best teeth. It was one of my favorite things about him, he had just great teeth, perfectly straight though he never had braces and a great smile. Now he covers his mouth when he laughs, and talks differently so he doesn't show them as much. It's sad IMO.

I think the reason is that somehow my ex never grew up. He needed to be irresponsible in some small ways here and there to make someone else love and nurture him. It's the only way he knew to get his needs met. We were a perfect match because I only wanted to care for others, I didn't want or need anyone to take care of me and my goal was to be in charge, safe, secure all on my own, never, ever be vulnerable to another person. That's how my mom raised me, tough and self reliant. My plan to never be vulnerable was thwarted by getting sick and becoming vulnerable overnight, without ever wanting to be. That ended the cycle for us, and resulted in divorce.

"Life is the art of drawing without an eraser."


John W. Gardner





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Ten Rules for Being Human



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"The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding."
Malcolm Gladwell Blink

iVillage Member
Registered: 03-26-2003
Sat, 09-18-2010 - 1:37am
Molly, I think it's perfectly fine to give him some time, BUT I agree with Sienna, I think moving in with the promise that he'll clean up once you're there isn't a wise decision. You're going to want to see the proof in his improved hygiene BEFORE moving in! How much more difficult will it be for you to find another place once you've moved in? It will be a lot harder! Besides, you've been upset and complaining about this for a long time without the kind of results that are acceptable. Him telling you he'll make this change after you're committed to the move isn't reasonable. You need to know he'll be an acceptable roommate before moving!

Finding him organic deodorant is a good idea, but don't you also think if he was truly interested that people found him smelly he would be invested in finding his own solution? Don't you think this is something he would (and should) have looked into on his own? I hope I'm wrong, but all these things point to a guy who doesn't care whether he's offensive to people around him or not and isn't motivated to make these kinds of changes. If he was, he'd have cleaned himself up and be checking in occasionally to make sure he's smelling presentable.

Here's hoping we don't see a post from you down the road saying, "I can't stand living with the smell/bad teeth anymore and can't afford first, last and deposit to move out." I would really urge you not to tie yourself up by making this switch before he's shown you it's going to be a good move for you to make. The other thing is if you tell him you're not willing to move in until he's acceptable he's clear on your standards and that you're serious. Moving in before he's made changes tells him it's not really that important to you and he can hedge/fudge on his promised clean up. Your actions will tell him how serious you are about this.



















"Ignoring the facts
does not change the facts"

~ Author unknown



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"Ignoring the facts
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