Episode 87: Showering Rules

When having strict rules makes you feel controlled, coming to a compromise with a partner who wants a specific thing can seem impossible.

When having strict rules makes you feel controlled, coming to a compromise with a partner who wants a specific thing can seem impossible.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

If you had the power to read a partner's mind but only on one occasion, when would you use it and why?

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

My partner and I are having a hard time coming to a resolution and I wondered if I could get your input.

We had been monogamous for many years before opening our relationship and now we both have partners in addition to each other. Before either of us had ever had sex with anyone else my partner had asked me to agree that when we have sex with someone else we come home and shower right away. I had agreed to that because it sounded reasonable to me at the time.

In practice it brings up feelings of shame for me. Like I did something wrong and dirty and I have to wash myself before I can interact with my partner.

The other night I got home late from a date. I was intending to take a shower but when I got home our child was still awake. I asked my partner if he wanted me to try to get our child to sleep since they had been home parenting alone and my partner said yes. I ended up trying to get my child down for another hour and he still wasn’t asleep. At this point he ended up coming into our room to sleep and I asked my partner if he minded if I didn’t take a shower. They said that was fine.

I planned on taking a shower in the morning before I took my child to school but I overslept and didn’t have time. My partner and I had planned to have a coffee date after school drop off but they were upset because I broke our shower agreement so instead I went home to shower.

I told my partner I was wrong to break our agreement and that I should have talked about the feelings of shame the shower rule was bringing up for me and how it feels controlling before this incident. We talked a lot about it and I tried to compromise but we just do not feel the same way about this.

Because my partner says their reason for wanting this rule is so they don’t smell sex on me, I offered as a compromise that if I got home late and didn’t want to shower I would be willing to sleep on the couch. My partner didn’t like that idea because they want us to be able to cuddle and reconnect when I get home.

I also offered that I understood that my partners boundary was that they did not want to cuddle if I haven’t showered and that I would respect that but I would shower when I was ready to shower. I am a big fan of people having boundaries for themselves rather than rules for other people. They then said they felt like I was going to delay showering on purpose because I didn’t want to cuddle.

After some time my partner gave in and said it was ok for me not to shower that night as long as I showered first thing in the morning. At this point I felt very frustrated and no longer wanted to compromise. I began to ask questions to clarify. What time is too late? If I get home at 11 is that too early to not shower? What about 12? I said if we are going to make rules like that then I need specifics so I know I am not breaking the rule.

They became frustrated and said I don’t understand why it is such a big deal to just shower. I said I am telling you why it is a big deal to me and it isn’t a valid reason to you. I told them it does not matter to me if they shower right away or not, as long as they shower before we are physically intimate and that I accept that they can shower when they want to shower. I also explained that when I have sex with my partner I don’t feel the need to get up and shower first thing. I may go to sleep and then get up and make breakfast and watch a show or do something and then shower when I am ready to start my day.

I want to be considerate of my partners feelings but I also feel like I can not agree to strict rules because they make me feel controlled and I will end up feeling resentful. Any insight would be appreciated.


I feel like the biggest problem here is the basic lack of trust and I can understand why you got sort of frustrated and started asking sort of exact specific questions like “What if I come home at 12? What if I get home at one and the house is on fire?”. Because once somebody says like “I don't believe that you will exercise in good faith”, that in and of itself is kind of a huge problem here. You can have different feelings about hygiene and how that works.

And I can totally understand both sides of this from a practical aspect and also from a hygiene aspect. But once someone says like “I feel like you're going to do this so that you can get out of being intimate with me,” that kind of means that your partner doesn't trust you on a very basic level. You have to be able to engage in good faith and you have to believe and trust that your partner isn't going to secretly do something to get out of something.

I feel like if you didn't want to cuddle or you didn't want to do that, you should also be allowed to say “You know what? I just got home from a date I'm feeling a kind of way. I want to be alone”. You don't have to cuddle and it's fine if your partner feels a little bit nervous after you've been on a date and finds it quite reassuring to reconnect. That's absolutely fine. But you don't have to do that either. You're allowed to want your alone space. And I'm not even saying that that's what you're asking for.

But this sort of insistence that, “Oh, I can't let you sleep on the couch. Because I'm afraid you'll get out of cuddling by doing that”. That is leading to a much, much bigger discussion. I feel like your partner has a lot of fears and paranoias and that's fine. It's fine for them to want to reconnect with you after a date because they feel a little bit anxious. Especially since you started off as monogamous and you're not anymore. I feel like it's okay if they have their own proclivities around hygiene reasons.

I do kind of and have kind of had that rule. It's always been— it's never been like as soon as you get home you shower, you know, because I also understand your side of things of that being kind of a little bit shame-y even if you don't mean it to be shame-y, but I do from a pure hygiene perspective, yes, before you put your junk near my junk, your junk’s been near somebody else's junk. I feel like you should shower first. And that's fine. I understand kind of both sides of it.

I also feel like you can acknowledge that you might have hang up around it. I know for one like I have hygiene squicks and I know that I have told partners up front like “You smell. Go take a shower,” not even having to do with like smelling like sex or whatever. It's just like, you have BO and it isn't something I enjoy smelling. Please go shower, change your shirt. And I don't mean it in a shame-y way.

I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge that if me being very blunt about it, of saying “You smell. Please go take a shower”, is hard for someone to deal with, I'm perfectly fine phrasing it in a way that would help them better. But I'm also not gonna hug somebody with stank ass BO. I'm sorry. That's my own personal feelings about it. I don't have to be, you know— I can tell someone like “Listen, I would like it if you take a shower because you smell a little bit” you know? Or I can be like “Wow, you are really stank. Get your butt in the shower, gross person” like you know.

You can be— I usually make it very jokey but different people deal with that in different ways. And it's fine that your partner has this type of boundary. They can be not shame-y about it. And the thing that kind of raises a little bit of a “Hmm that's interesting” is that you didn’t— not going to a coffee date? Like a coffee date? If you're walking around smelling like sex, then how is it…? I just find that this sort of mental separation between like, “We can't go for coffee because you haven't showered yet”.

And yet you're allowed to put your child to sleep whilst you're supposedly walking around smelling of sex? They don't have a problem with you going to work… like are you going to smell it on the cup? Like through the coffee like really? Like I feel like you're— if you have had sex and you haven't showered, you maybe smell like a bit of BO but… you can smell it through their pants while you're sitting in a coffee shop? Like really? I feel like that is a little bit much.

No wonder you feel shame-y about it because that is a shame-y thing, right? That's like “I don't want to even risk the chance that I might notice that you have been with somebody else” and I don't even think that you would notice it on a coffee date. I mean really? I just feel like you know that is a little bit… That is a little bit of an unrealistic expectation. Because you can't like— you not wanting to put your face in somebody's junk, who's just had sex with somebody else is totally valid, is totally 100% valid. And even for STI prevention reasons I would be like “yeah, take a shower dude”.

But sitting in a coffee shop? Yeah, I feel like there are ways to go about this and that is too far. Because you shouldn't have to go home and shower when you're supposed to be on a coffee date and no wonder you have resentment. And no wonder it's hard for you to compromise because this has been a bigger deal than it really needs to be. I feel like hygiene reasons make sense, but the entire sort of coffee date doesn't really hold up to the hygiene rule.

And I think that there's a little bit more that needs to be discussed there. I also think that they just need to trust you. You can't get anywhere in negotiations with a partner that doesn't really trust that you're willing to do the right thing for them or you're willing to compromise in good faith. So yeah, in general, I feel like your approach to this makes sense. You really not wanting to have specific things put on you of when you shower makes sense.

I do feel like you're offering a decent compromise with you being like, “Look, if you don't want to smell me, I can sleep on the couch. But I would like to shower when I would like to shower and I want you to respect that”. I feel like that makes a lot of sense. I think that you kind of need to point out to them that this whole like, “I worry that if you're going to choose to sleep on the couch is a way to get out of intimacy” is at its basis very distrusting and it doesn’t— It's not assuming that you're both operating in good faith.

It's assuming that you're going to basically manipulate the situation. And also the wider point is that you're also allowed to say no to the cuddling and the reconnecting at that moment, if you feel like you don't want to because you're allowed to do that, even if they feel like they need it. And understandably, they might be upset by it. You're also allowed to say no, and you don't need to use that as an excuse to say no. You can just say no.

And so they need to trust you a little bit more. But yeah, overall, to sum up, I feel like again, basic lack of trust. Your partner is allowed to have fears. Your partner is allowed to want the reconnection. Your partner is even allowed to have hygienic squicks. They can also apologize to you if you feel shamed. I've done that before when I have been too blunt about
“oh you stink” you know. I also been like you know “I’m sorry for being that blunt”. Some people can handle that. And or, you know, some people find that hurtful and that's perfectly acceptable. So if they have those squicks, and it causes some shame, you know, and you feel some shame around it, they can also say, “Look, I'm sorry for making you feel ashamed”.

I think that there's wider discussions that are really needed because of the coffee thing because that doesn't really scream to me hygiene. And also as I said the whole “You’re just gonna say this or sleep on the couch to get out of intimacy” when really you're allowed to just say no and you seem like the kind of person who would just be upfront if you didn't feel like having a reconnecting or cuddling and you're allowed to say no. But they have to kind of trust that you will exercise this stuff in good faith. And if they can't trust you, then there is a bigger problem that you might need to discuss with a relationships therapist that needs to be addressed. So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

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