Why We Get the Ick, According to Therapists

Learn what the ick is, why it happens, and whether you should work through it.

Young couple sitting apart on the sofa. They are looking at each other with irritated expressions.
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“The ick” is a phrase that has permeated pop culture—particularly in the dating sphere—and refers to losing romantic or sexual interest in someone you were once attracted to. True to its moniker, “the ick” can even present as mild or strong disgust toward the other person, and ultimately cause you to abandon the relationship.

In some cases, the ick is completely warranted and is simply a sign it’s time to say, “Thank you, next.” In cases where this feeling becomes a pattern in your relationships, however, it’s a sign to reflect on your potential resistance to getting attached.

For more insights on what the ick is, why we get it, when to listen to it, and when to reevaluate our own behaviors, we reached asked therapists to weigh in. Continue reading to dig into the psychological roots of the ick, and to learn whether or not you can overcome this feeling.

What Exactly Is The Ick?

At its core, the ick is a negative feeling or reaction we develop toward the person we are dating. It’s less about having concerns or doubts about the other, and more so a visceral reaction to a habit, behavior, or personality trait.

Psychologically, once we get this feeling it can cause us to feel unpleasant feelings toward the other to the point that we start retracting from the relationship.

“Because it is more of a reaction, the ick can happen quickly and may catch you off guard, where if you are having doubts in the relationship the issues can feel like they have been lingering for a while,” explains Leanna Stockard, LMFT at LifeStance Health

She adds that the ick can strike at any point in the relationship, from that very first date to after years of marriage. This is because we’re constantly learning new things about our partner and even evolving ourselves.

Why Do We Get The Ick?

Let’s say that you have been dating a person for five months. Things are going well, they’ve already met your parents, and your friends have given their thumbs up. Then one day you go out to eat and they are rude to the server and you notice them chewing with their mouth open. You become absolutely repulsed in this moment and find it hard to shake. It affects your feelings toward them so much that you begin to distance yourself. 

This is just one example of a million potential scenarios. You can get the ick after seeing your partner interact poorly with someone else, after observing a lack of hygiene, or following a big blowup. Let’s dive into some of those scenarios in more detail.

Red or Yellow Flags

Amber Trueblood, LMFT, says that we can experience the ick after observing a yellow or red flag in our partner. These are signs to move forward with caution or to retract entirely, and it’s important to listen to this gut instinct.

Red flags include verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, and yellow flags include non-harmful behavioral issues that affect your relationship or value discrepancies. If your close friends or family members share concerns or confusion about your relationship, this is a sign to look deeper and to trust that “ick” feeling.

“I cannot emphasize enough that it is imperative to listen to your gut feelings when abusive behaviors begin to show to prevent us from falling into manipulation techniques, which can be more difficult to leave long-term,” Stockard says.

Growing Apart

We are forever evolving, and sometimes that translates to a natural increase in emotional distance between you and your partner. One way that we may psychologically cope with this reality is to start to view our partner less favorably. This can make it easier to extricate ourselves from a relationship that we assume is headed nowhere.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is over, but it should trigger us to re-evaluate. Trueblood says, “Listening to your body and your feelings is an important component in understanding yourself and your needs. [Getting the ick] means that some deeper analysis will be well worth the time and effort.”

Avoidant Attachment

Avoidant attachment is a type of attachment style where we are hesitant to invest in a relationship. Stockard says, “When we struggle with avoidant attachment, getting close to someone and thinking about the possibility of a long-term, secure relationship triggers our mind to find an opportunity to pull away from them.” 

She says that we have this reaction due to a fear of rejection or abandonment because an avoidant attachment style wants us to pull away before we can get hurt. That said, if you find yourself experiencing the ick repeatedly in relationships, there’s a solid possibility that you may have an avoidant attachment style.

According to attachment theory, there are four primary types of attachment styles: secure, ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized. Our style indicates how we move through relationships and can ultimately impact our success or lack thereof in romantic partnerships.

Can You Get Past The Ick?

Is your relationship completely doomed if you get the ick? Not necessarily. In cases where you’re dealing with a red flag, it’s important to listen to that gut instinct and walk away. With yellow flags, it’s a sign to slow down, communicate, and proceed with caution. In cases where you’re growing apart, it’s important to hunker down and communicate with your partner about the trajectory of your relationship.

Stockard acknowledges that the ick can be hard to shake. However, you can definitely get past the feeling by being radically transparent with your partner and yourself. “If your partner’s behaviors or certain traits are giving you the ick, it may be worthwhile to communicate it to them to see if it is something they are willing to work on or change,” Stockard says.

In situations where you’re dealing with an avoidant attachment style, it’s important to address the underlying cause so you can find joy in healthy relationships. Otherwise, you may continue this cycle without intervention.

As challenging as it can be to push through these deep-seated reactions to attachment, working through the issue will reap great reward for your future.

Speaking with a therapist is one way to better understand this behavior in yourself. You can also connect with friends and family, journal, and learn more about avoidant attachment so you can better understand personal triggers and work through them in real time.

In addition to working on yourself, studies have found that practicing gratitude and focusing on the things you love about your partner is one way to nurture your relationship.

At the end of the day, experiencing the ick is a sign that we need to do some more digging either with our partner or about ourselves. Listen to gut instincts to walk away when dealing with red flags, communicate with your partner if you feel like you’re growing apart, and look inwardly to do some healing if this is a pattern of avoidant attachment in your relationships.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bartholomew K, Horowitz LM. Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category modelJ Pers Soc Psychol. 1991;61(2):226-244. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.61.2.226

  2. Gordon AM, Impett EA, Kogan A, Oveis C, Keltner D. To have and to hold: gratitude promotes relationship maintenance in intimate bondsJ Pers Soc Psychol. 2012;103(2):257-274. doi:10.1037/a0028723

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.