Co-Parenting Disagreements over Hygiene

Oh, help! My husband and I have been having an ongoing argument about hygiene for nearly 3 years now, and I have reached my limit. The argument started when our son was a few months old. My husband wasn’t washing his hands after changing our son’s diaper, and then somehow I discovered my husband wasn’t washing his hands after his own bowel movements. I was really shocked and I confronted him the moment I became aware of what was happening. He was really defensive, and said that in third-world countries they use their hands, not toilet paper; he said the world does not revolve around me, and people have different ways of doing things. He did not think there was any health risk involved. And as our arguing continued, he complained to his family and friends that I had turned into a control freak, that I was stubbornly trying to manage his every action—without mentioning the specifics of why, of course. I knew if I brought up these particulars he’d be horribly embarrassed, so I never said anything, and in return I gained something of a reputation. Eventually he changed his habit for good when I discreetly (and without giving particulars) asked several of our friends what they thought about such hand-washing; but the argument lasted nearly 2 years until this change! I had hoped the issue was resolved, but something new has happened and I find myself in pretty much the same situation. My husband was relaxing in the bathtub the other night, trying to calm some sore muscles. Our 3-year-old was in the bathroom with him, and they were having a wonderful father-son chit-chat. Suddenly I overheard my son giggle, “Daddy! You just pee’d in the bathtub!” and my husband laughed back, “yes”. I waited to hear him drain the water, but a few minutes later he was still there, bathing in his own pee. I jumped into the bathroom and said, “What are you doing? Please don’t do this in front of our son!” He rolled his eyes—I was “at it again”. And when we fought about it later, again he came out with the “third-world people don’t use toilet paper, the world doesn’t revolve around you” argument. I love my husband, but this argument is making me miserable- and his hygiene is definitely a turn-off. We co-parent well in other areas, but this argument is driving me crazy. What on earth can I do?

First, let me apologize for the long delay. It is no excuse, but I wanted ample time to think about your dilemma. While I would like to remain neutral in answering your questions, I am finding it difficult in doing so. My gut reaction is that your husband needs help and should be encouraged to get into therapy for his own sake as well as your son’s.  I would encourage you to make a list of all the positive qualities you love about your husband. I would also encourage you to share his strengths with him. One approach to having this conversation with him is to ask him what his thoughts are about this kind of behavior if he were to hear about it in others.  Most people have a need to get the other person to understand their perspective in an argument or disagreement, this is often not helpful. It is most hopeful when a person takes the position that they are trying to understand the other person. If he will not consider therapy either individually or with you, then consider that you take a parenting/child development class together since you are first time parents and could both benefit from hearing from an objective third party appropriate ways to parent, discipline, and behave around your son.

I hope this helps, even just a little. Best of luck.