How Do I Tell My Significant Other They Stink?

A gentleman’s guide to opening up that extremely awkward hygiene convo.


In the vast and ever-expanding catalogue of “serious talks” you might have with your significant other, letting them know that they reek is probably at the top of the “Where do I even start?” list. For example, there’s one redditor who complains that her significant other is unaware that he has dingleberries hanging from his butthole because he doesn’t know how to clean it, and that he then carries these with him into his bed, thereby staining the sheets with his, well… y’know. (Did I say one? There’s more than one.)

“My boyfriend and I have recently entered a relationship. He is truly a wonderful person and I have no complaints except this… Last week, I stayed over at his house for a few days. In his pile of clothing I noticed that his underwear had a bunch of poop stains, and over the next few days I started noticing this more. On my last day, there was a stain on the sheets and he didn’t appear to think much of it,” writes this redditor who later admits that this is “seriously gross” but is unsure of how to talk to her boyfriend about his fecal issues without embarrassing him.

In her defence, talking about hygiene in general, and especially with the person you’re in love with, is a thorny issue. No one wants to be told they have bad breath, let alone be told that they’re always carrying around some extra faecal cargo. So how best to approach this potentially nuclear relationship issue?

Do Your Research
In this way, talking about your significant other’s bad breath with them is sort of like a final exam or a job interview, in that you should approach the subject with some potential facts that you can lean on. For example, according to WikiHow, you should learn about possible health problems that may be causing the hygiene issues, such as (to quote WikiHow verbatim):

  • Depression can cause anxiety, a sense of helplessness and deep sadness that may interfere with a sufferer’s ability or desire to maintain good hygiene.
  • Certain illnesses of and damage to the brain or nervous system may affect a sufferer’s physical ability to care for him or herself, and so add to a lack of good hygiene.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse can cause confusion, fatigue, memory loss and lack of attention, which may all contribute to less attention to personal hygiene.

Basically, it’s going to sound less hostile if you point the finger at the potential underlying health condition causing your significant other’s bad breath, rather than telling them that every time they open their mouth, you’re on the verge of tears.

Keep the Conversation Specific
Never use your significant other’s stinky armpits as a way to discuss their general self-awareness. “Once again, don’t say it’s been going on forever, is causing you huge grief or that everyone else has talked about it,” reports Psychology Today. “Since it’s the first time you’ve brought it up, treat it as something that has only recently become an issue.” To that end, per the same WikiHow article, it may help you to deal with your own concerns prior to confronting your partner about them. “If you mentally prepare yourself by focusing on the goal and eliminating any extra emotions, you’ll feel more confident in the conversation,” they report.

If/When Possible, Try to Give Hints
It may not work, but it’s always better to reinforce good behaviour than to criticise bad behaviour. At least according to Dr. Ruth, who admits that hygiene often falls into “taboo category.” “One way to get your point across in a positive manner is to convince your partner to take a shower or bath with you,” she writes for TIME. “Then rather than having to say something negative, you can make a positive statement such as ‘I love it when you smell so clean.’ Of course your partner might not take the hint, but it’s worth a try, especially as the entire experience might prove very arousing to both of you.”

Overall, just remember to do your research and tread lightly: These conversations about hygiene are rampant with boobie (and armpit, mouth, bum and the rest) traps.