How to Talk to Your Partner about Embarrassing Health Issues

It's a conversation you'd just as soon not have with your partner. But his bad breath (or body odor, excessive flatulence, or another repulsive condition or habit) is such a turn off that you've decided you have to bring it up.

"If you don't it will erode the relationship," says Irina Firstein, LCSW. "You will get frustrated and resentful, and you will not want to be intimate any longer."

So how can you bring up this most sensitive of topics without humiliating, embarrassing or angering your partner?

1. Consider writing a note about it and leaving it for your partner, says Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist. Start out by telling your partner that you love him, bad breath (or whatever the condition is) and all, but that he'd be much easier to love if he could take care of this problem. If it's a bad breath problem, attach the note to a bottle of mouthwash. If your guy doesn't use deodorant, try putting the note with a deodorant stick. Leave it where he'll see it, Lieberman suggests, adding that while it's not the perfect solution, it is a way to open the door to communication.

"It may not be that the partner won't be upset, but they will be able to get over it, and it can be much less upsetting when you are not there," Lieberman says.

2. If you prefer to speak face to face, be sure to choose a time when the two of you are not in a bad mood. At the end of a long day fraught with lots of workplace stress and tension, it's best not to broach a delicate subject. But when you do sit down together, be honest, and let your genuine concern for the other person's wellbeing come through in your words. Start by saying, "I've noticed that lately there's been an odor coming from your body," suggests Firstein. "Say that if you don't tell the person, then it's out there for the whole world to be aware of." Reminding him that the two of you are partners, and that your goal is to help him, can often help defuse what could potentially be a tense situation.

3. Link his condition to a potential medical disorder and tell your partner you're concerned on his behalf, Lieberman suggests. Start out by saying that you care about him, and that you wanted to bring this to his attention. Offer to make an appointment for him to see a doctor.

4. As for what NOT to say, avoid any mention of the fact that you find the condition repulsive or a turnoff. It's humiliating enough for the person on the receiving end of the comments to have to react with dignity to what could be perceived as harsh criticism. The more you can depersonalize it, the more your partner may be motivated to actually do something about it. And once the offensive condition is under control, you'll feel relieved that you spoke up. Chances are that your partner will be, too.