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Miss Conduct

My husband has developed a disgusting habit

Just the thought of it makes me queasy. How do I get him to stop?

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I’ve recently noticed my 54-year-old husband of 10 years has developed a personal habit so revolting I can’t write it out — the thought of it makes me queasy. I’ve mentioned in passing several times how disgusting this practice is and how physically ill the thought, never mind the deed, makes me. He knows my position on this, yet the practice continues. How can I, without direct confrontation, make my point? I’m at a loss.

Anonymous / Wayland

Why are you determined to avoid direct confrontation? If there were ever a time to be extraordinarily direct, that time is now. It doesn’t mean opening up an until-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning can of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf–style accusations and counterattacks. You don’t have to use insulting language — nor do you have to stick around to argue your points, if for some bizarre reason your husband feels like defending his behavior. Simply describe what he does and the effect it has on you, and say that you can’t be in the room when this happens.

Then don’t be. Ever. Leave the room every time he does it, even if you’re comfortable on the couch and absorbed in the new Megan Abbott novel and you really could ignore it this time . . . don’t. Leave. Make it awkward and uncomfortable for him every time he does it, so the behavior has to remain a conscious choice on his part and cannot solidify into an unconscious habit. And don’t discuss the issue any further, except to repeat your initial point, if necessary. You’re not open to argument on this. You’re not even mad. You’re just not in the room anymore.

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But maybe you fear a direct confrontation not because confrontation equals conflict in your mind, but because at the present moment, there’s a margin of possibility that your husband somehow doesn’t really know how much his habit bothers you. You’ve only mentioned it in passing, after all. If you tell him directly, that bit of cover is gone.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.