Real Talk

My Partner Suddenly Gives Me “The Ick.” Normal... Or Red Flag?

It can actually be both, says a sociologist and sexologist.

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A couple talks over a meal.
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The ick. We’ve all felt it. It’s that moment when we look over at someone we love (or at least find attractive), and suddenly, a wave of disgust washes over us. It could be how they hold their fork, wear their hair, or lick their lips before talking. But it’s there — and it grosses you out now.

The ick, which, like so many things these days, was pretty much coined on TikTok, refers to being highly turned off by or repulsed by experiencing [fill in the blank]. According to Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., sociologist, certified sexologist, and lead researcher at Womens-Health.com, the ick typically happens after the honeymoon period has cooled off.

“The first three months to two years of a relationship are called the romance, honeymoon, or limerence stage. During this time, we fall in love and experience lots of hormones, infatuation, and sexual attraction at levels that feel great but are not sustainable in the long run,” she explains. “We are more in love with our fantasy of the individual than the reality. Since we don’t know them that well, we fill in the blanks with our fantasies, which is definitely exciting, and we call that love.”

However, reality sets in. You suddenly see your hot partner in their day-to-day life, and they’re not so much hot as just a hot mess. They wake up with horrible morning breath; they have annoying tics; they forget to empty the dishwasher and eat from dirty plates.

The ick creeps in.

For this reason, says Melancon, many couples don’t make it past the limerence stage because they perceive themselves as falling out of love. “It is more like they are falling into reality, which one may take or leave,” she says.

If you’re one of the couples who survived this stage and are now in a committed relationship or marriage, you might think you’ve survived the ick (or at least can get past it). While it isn’t commonly discussed, Melancon says most people feel some degree of frustration, irritation, or disgust with their long-term partner at some point.

If you’re experiencing the ick in your long-term partnership, Melancon advises how to work with it and when the ick could be something more.

What to Do If You Feel the Ick With Your Partner

If you’re feeling the ick with your partner, your first instinct might be to ignore it and quietly seethe about their icky behavior. Avoidant types might think it’s “logical” to avoid their partners until they feel less icky towards them. Unfortunately, both measures also create a disconnection in the relationship, says Melancon. Here’s what to do instead.

Recognize the “ick” feeling is your responsibility, not your partner’s.

Basically, do not try to control your partner. “While we can all make requests in a relationship, it isn’t their job to stop you from feeling the ick,” Melancon explains. “Except in the presence of abuse or disrespect, the most important thing in a relationship is to accept our partner as is.”

Which is why feeling the ick might be a good opportunity to consider why you like your partner and care about your relationship. Doing so might help diminish that yucky feeling and create a sense of closeness, which is imperative when feeling the ick.

When you start feeling the “ick,” pause and spend some time with yourself.

“Don’t react to your partner,” Melancon says. “Instead, sit with your feelings. Name what emotions you feel and notice what sensations you feel in your body. Allowing your feelings to ‘be’ without trying to change them ironically helps us move through the emotion and get to the other side, where we may see things more clearly.”

You might also want to journal what and why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. Oftentimes, the ick we feel and see in another can be a judgment or criticism we make about ourselves. Maybe there’s some forgiveness work that you need to do with yourself before you make it about your partner.

Remember, they probably feel the “ick” about you, too!

Maybe not the easiest thing to accept, but as Melancon says, it’s essential to recognize this is part of most relationships and doesn’t necessarily mean the love is gone. If you can get past your partner feeling icky about you and still wanting to be with you, then you can probably do the same for them.

Talk about it with your partner in a respectful way.

Rather than blaming them for your “ick” feelings, Melancon suggests raising the topic of feeling frustrated in a long-term relationship. “Bring up this article and ask if they can relate or if they’ve ever experienced it in the past. If you can name it and laugh about it together, the ick can be just another part of the relationship rather than something to be worried or concerned about.”

The more honest you can be about the ick and accept it for what it is, the less likely you will experience it as often.

When is the ick actually a red flag?

Sometimes, the ick we get about our partner might be telling us there’s something more about them and/or your relationship that just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s how they talk to waitstaff or respond to you when they disagree with you. If you’re constantly feeling the ick about your partner, Melancon says aside from the “ick” feelings, you need to ask yourself: How do you really feel about this person?

“Do you like them as a person, in general?” she says. “Do you enjoy spending time together? Do you see a future with your partner? Are your beliefs, values, and goals in rough alignment? How does this person treat you? While no partner is perfect, on the whole, do you feel cared for and respected?”

Melancon suggests working with a therapist can be really helpful to sort through your feelings. “In many situations in life, we have a mix of positive and negative emotions, but it can sometimes be confusing to discern what that means,” she explains. “Having neutral support can give you a place to work through the varying emotions that come with long-term relationships.”

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