A psychologist explains why we get ‘the ick’ in relationships

The gut feeling that makes you feel utterly repulsed by the person you’re dating


If you’ve ever ended a relationship in its early stages, you’ll be familiar with the ick. It’s that cringe-inducing gut feeling that emerges when you’re dating someone, a sudden repulsion that you can’t shake off.

Maybe it’s something they said, maybe you saw them from a weird angle, but suddenly and often involuntarily, everything changes. It all started off so well, but now compliments that once gave you tingles make you wince, the idea of kissing them sends you into a hole and no matter how much you want it to work out, it’s impossible to get past it.

But why do we get the ick? Is it a gut instinct we should trust or a momentary panic we should push past? I spoke to consultant clinical psychologist Emma Citron to find out more.

In fact, the ick is such a huge phenomenon we’ve made a podcast episode on it. You can listen to the episode of our “Is it in Yet?” sex podcast now on Apple podcasts and Spotify.

Follow the “Is it in Yet?” Instagram to hear tragic sex stories and new episodes first.

Alternatively, you can listen right now in the player below.

So, why do we get the ick?

During all relationships at some stage there are moments of disdain or even revulsion for certain habits that even loved ones engage in.

Is there a common time frame in which people normally catch it?

If the ick occurs after a few dates with a previous stranger, it’s usually a sign that they are perhaps not the person you thought they were.

Is it the other person’s fault, or is it something personal to you?

If they are harsh with serving staff at a cafe or are even fleetingly dismissive, these are clues to an aspect of their underlying nature that you may not like or choose to live with. I think a small number of small moments of this gut feeling is fine, but if the behaviour feels more significant such as a display of rigid traits and inflexibility then follow your instinct and don’t stick around the relationship.

On the other hand if you catch the person cleaning their ear or chewing the side of their cheek and you find this off putting, try not to be too judgemental either. We all do these things and one needs to work on tolerance of others and their humanity.

An ick is a gut feeling, but is it one you should trust or something unnecessary you should move on from?

If it’s something minor, it’s worth pushing through. However if you are beginning to find a person you are dating unappealing in whatever way, it’s best to end the relationship as it is hard to fake attraction to another or switch it on.

Preferences for others are bespoke and personal and ultimately one has to want to spend time with another and not feel repulsed by them in whatever way. Good luck, and make balanced choices in relationships as with everything else.