My Wife Is Very Upset about Cleanliness

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From Singapore: My 43 yrs old wife is upset whenever we talk about cleanliness. Based on a therapist here, she says it is not OCD, but attributed to my wife’s upbringing and values. For example: my wife gets upset whenever she sees the in-laws coming home and not immediately taking a shower. She resorts to cleaning where they sat down on the sofa with a cloth for concern of my daughter. She also mops where they have stepped on. My wife feels very stressed whenever I try to talk to her about it (her distress has been kept latent too long, because my mother – a midwife thought it was OCD).

Some triggers – my wife absolutely abhors it when a person is sweaty (after a hot day) or her clothes has a pungent smell or is covered with the smell emanating from deep-fried oil (so no going to the restaurant or food courts); that person must have an immediate bath upon reaching home, or my wife will be very unhappy.

Help. Talking about it makes my wife really blow up very easy, although I have learned that she finds it beyond her to control herself and that she was brought up this way – to be clean. Worse still, my wife recently got a positive pap smear report, which is not a good indicator of the stress she has been suffering from.

What should I do? Conform to my wife’s wishes and ask everybody living in the same home to be ultra-clean so we can help her cope with her aversion to being unclean? Or should I return to her therapist to pursue this further?

PS – The rest of us at home do bathe at least once a day, just that it doesn’t have to be immediate upon reaching home.

A: There is a difference between being overly concerned with neatness and cleanliness and OCD. When people have OCD, the concern is getting in the way of day to day life. I’d say your wife’s behavior meets that criterion. There are places she can’t go. She can’t comfortably have visitors. She is making unreasonable demands on her family.

Please do go back to the therapist and pursue this further. From what you wrote in your letter, my guess is that your wife does have OCD. Of course, the therapist may have other information or your wife may have minimized the problem. Do take this letter and response along with you to the appointment. It’s a good description of what is going on in your home and should help move the treatment forward.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jul 2014

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2014). My Wife Is Very Upset about Cleanliness. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/07/20/my-wife-is-very-upset-about-cleanliness/