My Husband Has Terrible Body Odor; What’s the Best Way To Tell a Partner They Smell?

Dear Troubleshooter:

I’m a homemaker in my mid-70s, and my husband, who is from the same generation as me, has terrible body odor.

I don’t know if it’s got something to do with getting older, but how he smells has been really bothering me recently. Some days the smell is so chokingly strong that I can’t go near him.

I don’t know if it has to do with his hair, dentures or smoking. He gets a haircut and perm every two months and smokes two packs a day.

We always end up getting into a fight whenever I tell him to quit smoking, so I don’t think he’ll ever do that.

He only washes his hands, gargles and brushes his teeth when he takes a bath.

Whenever he comes near me, I try to subtly keep my distance from him without being noticed.

It doesn’t mean I hate him. There are also things about him that I respect.

He hasn’t realized that I think he smells bad. How can I tell him about the problem without getting into a fight?

— J, Osaka Prefecture

Dear Ms. J:

Bad smells can be valuable information, alerting us to rotten food or gas leaks. The reason people can’t stand them is probably linked to how bad smells strongly influence our instincts. It’s only natural that you’re having trouble putting up with it.

However, when it comes to a partner’s body odor, it’s difficult to bring that up with them.

People don’t usually notice their own body odor, and if you just tell them they smell bad, they may feel personally criticized.

So, how about bringing it up by pointing out how body odor can be a signal of bad health or a clue to an illness?

If his body odor has suddenly become stronger recently, it might indicate a health problem. Why don’t you get him to see doctor about it by saying: “I’m worried about how you smell; it could be a sign of an illness?”

If he stubbornly refuses to see a doctor, then you have to tell him straight: “I like you and respect you, but I can’t stand how you smell.”

It’d be nice if he took some initiative himself not to put his partner in an unpleasant situation.

— Tomomi Fujiwara, writer