What To Do When Your Partner Gives You “The Ick”

Sexual Wellness | | Natasha Weiss
5 min read

Fans of the cultural phenomenon “Love Island” are well aware of the term “the ick”. For those of you who don’t partake in this hefty dose of a reality TV dating show, let’s give you some insight into what exactly the ick is. 

You’re dating someone and you find out their favorite musical artist is the whiniest boy band from the early 2000s. Your lover always manages to get bits of whatever they’re eating stuck in their facial hair. Your long-term partner leaves dirty underwear on the floor in the bathroom when they take a shower – and takes days to pick them up. What do all these scenarios have in common? They’re all examples of the ick. 

What is “The Ick”?

While not clinically diagnosable, the ick is a serious ailment that can potentially alter the course of a relationship. The ick is the feeling of slight or extreme, disgust, annoyance, cringe, or grossed-outness from someone that you’re dating or in a relationship with. 

The ick can make you go from crushing on someone to being repulsed by them in a second. This can be something small and laughable or a bigger problem that potentially changes the course of a relationship. 

If you’ve ever experienced the ick, you know exactly what we’re talking about. It’s almost like your instincts take over, and your gut tells you “No, no. This is not it.” The ick can be physical like the way their nose hair grows (not to body shame by any means) or more mental-emotional like their sense of humor. 

Is “The Ick” Biological?

From a biological perspective, the ick makes sense. Whether or not you want to have babies, our physiological goal on this planet is survival and reproduction. If you have a uterus, your body’s incredible radar is looking for a sperm donor whose DNA will be the most compatible with yours, and ideally comes from a partner who can provide safety and shelter for you and your offspring.

The ick feels like it comes from a place of intuition. Of your gut telling you “Hey buddy, this probably is not right for you.” Maybe the ick protects you from possible future scenarios where you find out that you’re not compatible with someone. 

Now enough with the patriarchal heteronormativity. Your biological drives certainly impact your everyday behaviors. But you have free will, and the ability to zoom out and make informed decisions about your love life. The same is true for the ick. 

“The Ick” in Dating vs Long-Term Dating

When you think about the ick, it’s usually in the context of dating. If the ick comes up, it’s a good sign that your new dating app match will not become your new boo. While you don’t need to immediately cut someone off when the ick comes over you, this feeling can help you weed out who may or may not be a good fit for you relationship-wise. 

It also makes sense that you would get the ick when you are getting to know someone and are looking for signs of whether or not you like them. This is a natural part of the dating process. 

What if you get the ick with a long(ish) term partner or someone you’ve committed to? The ick feels different in these scenarios. But as people grow and change, so do their relationships, and sometimes things come up. New behaviors may surface that you find annoying, or something your partner does that you used to find endearing you now get turned off by. 

A Case of “The Ick”: What To Do

Your approach to the ick will be different depending on the person, and whether you’re dating or are in a relationship with them. Still, it can be confusing or jolting when these feelings come up, so what do you do when you catch the ick?

“The Ick” in Dating

Dating can be tricky. No matter if you’re looking for your forever partner or just someone to have fun with, underlying feelings can be triggered unexpectedly, and without warning.

Sometimes those feelings take the form of the ick. The ick is different than just realizing you’re not into someone. It’s a primal reaction telling you that whatever this person is doing is a big no for you. 

If you frequently experience the ick while dating it may be time for a little self-reflection. Do you often hold back in relationships or have avoidant tendencies? Do you look for reasons to be annoyed with someone in the quest for perfection in love? Which by the way, doesn’t exist – perfection that is, not love. 

If this sounds like you, the ick may be a sort of protective mechanism that has gone too far and is now keeping you from going deeper into a potential relationship. This often comes from a fear of abandonment or rejection, and is something worth working on, possibly in therapy.

On the other hand, the ick while dating could also be a red flag. Sometimes it’s as simple as your intuition telling you that this isn’t the right person for you, whether or not they’ve done anything “wrong” per se. 

“The Ick” in Long-Term Relationships

Now, what if you get the ick with your already partner? Sometimes it can come up when you’re more tired and irritable, or everyday stress is wearing on your nerves. If this is the case, have some grace with yourself and your partner. Know when you need to take care of yourself, instead of being irritated with them.

What if your new ick with your old partner doesn’t have to do with irritability? Ask yourself if the behavior is something your partner can change, and if so, if it’s worth talking about with them. Relationships change as people grow and evolve, so as heartbreaking as it is, sometimes the ick is a result of people growing apart. 

Some icks are normal. They’re more likely to come up when you’re tired or irritable, or when you’re feeling defensive. When it comes down to it, if you want to be with someone, you’re not going to let the small icks they give you get in the way of your relationship

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