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Dear Mary: My partner’s bad breath, spitting and coughing is giving me the ick. Should I end things?

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'His breath gets bad very quickly and I find it off-putting'

'His breath gets bad very quickly and I find it off-putting'

'His breath gets bad very quickly and I find it off-putting'

Mary, I am writing this letter as I am at my wits’ end. I have been with my partner for three years and we have been living together for half of that time. He is very set in his ways and isn’t one for spontaneity or change.

He suffers with bad breath and is always clearing his throat or coughing and spitting. I thought perhaps he may have a food intolerance but he won’t get a scope done. He has great dental hygiene and goes to his dentist once a year.

I have suggested diet changes, remedies, looked up articles and I have asked him, gently and firmly, to get it looked into but I’m always told there’s no issue. He said it stems from breaking his nose playing rugby a number of years back which affects his breathing and there’s nothing more to say about it.

I am going mad from the noise of him always spitting and coughing, I can hear it in other rooms and now his breath gets bad very quickly and I find it off-putting. I am actually considering breaking up with him before I invest any deeper. Any advice appreciated.

Mary replies: You have already invested quite heavily in this relationship as you’ve been together for three years. But presumably the problems have only become apparent when you started living together, because being together all day, every day, can bring things to light that would otherwise not have been noticed. This is why it is such a good idea for people to live together before they make the final commitment of marriage, as you are discovering.

Bad breath must be one of the most off-putting traits in any person, even if you are not in a relationship with them. Almost everybody of a certain age has experienced having to stand a good deal away from a person to whom they are speaking because of halitosis.

But things have improved greatly with the advent of dental hygienists, flossing, regular dental check-ups and overall good dental hygiene. You say that your partner has great dental hygiene, yet he suffers from bad breath which leads me to believe that it is all tied up in the after-effects of the broken nose. As the coughing, spitting and ongoing bad breath are all having such an effect on the relationship that you are considering ending it, then your partner needs to do everything he can to get help.

He needs to get a referral from his GP to an ear, nose and throat consultant to see what can be done to help him. Hopefully, they will be able to suggest something to alleviate his symptoms.

In the unlikely event that the ENT consultant cannot help, then I would suggest seeking a second opinion. It seems to me that in this day and age there surely must be something medically that can be done, at least as far as the bad breath is concerned.

If nothing can help the coughing and spitting then I don’t think your mindset is going to improve as regards this, and it may well lead to a parting of the ways.

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I recently watched again an old film, The War of the Roses, with Kathleen Turner and a very young Michael Douglas playing a married couple. I was struck by how much small idiosyncrasies, at the outset so charming, can turn into absolutely hateful traits. In the film, as the years progressed, how he laughed and even how he chewed his food were driving her crazy — enough to want a divorce — even though this hadn’t bothered her at all at the beginning of their relationship.

You certainly don’t want to get to this stage in your relationship, which is why you should do everything you can to get him to seek help, no matter how set in his ways your partner is. And it may well be that if he does go for help, you will appreciate his efforts and you will reconsider ending the relationship. So now it is over to him. 

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.


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