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Navigating the Ick in a Long-Term Relationship

The ick in a long-term relationship creeps up unexpectedly, and it can make or break things. Check out this guide to learn how to navigate it successfully.

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We’ve probably all experienced it: the moment when you realize the person of your dreams has some behavior that is more than a little unsavory. We then have to ask ourselves whether or not it’s something we can put up with or if it’s a deal-breaker. But what happens if you discover the ick in a long-term relationship? You’ve already made the commitment, so what do you do now?

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How to Overcome the Ick in a Long-Term Relationship

Thanks to an endless stream of videos on TikTok of people saying what their turn-offs are, social media may have turned “the ick” factor into a bit of a joke. However, anyone trying to navigate the ick in a long-term relationship will say that it can be very detrimental. That’s why we’ve created this guide to navigating the ick long haul!

What is “the ick”?

Simply put, the ick is a sudden feeling of disgust or repulsion you have with a romantic partner. This could pop up quite quickly when you’re just getting to know someone. Think of those cases when you suddenly find out someone doesn’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom or that they never change their sheets. You tend to learn these lessons the hard way pretty early on in relationships or situationships. 

However, there are always cases where the ick appears a little bit later on. This could be months or even years into a relationship. Unfortunately, it tends to be more about opinions or values than behaviors or hygiene. Examples include finding out that a person has very antiquated beliefs on religion or race. Perhaps they feel very differently than you when it comes to one of your passions.

The term “ick factor” has been linked with everything from Ally McBeal to Love Island. Regardless of the origin, TikTok and other forms of social media helped to popularize the term. It seems like more and more people are using the presence of the ick factor as the perfect reason to abandon ship in a relationship (and we certainly don’t blame them)!

What are some common icks?

Some of the most common icks in relationships include

  • Not brushing their teeth
  • Not showering frequently
  • Smelling badly
  • Living in a dirty house or apartment
  • Being rude to other people
  • Chewing with their mouth open
  • Slurping drinks and food
  • Breathing heavily
  • Snoring loudly 

Most of these may seem like minor annoyances you should be able to get past if you really care about someone. But it’s no easy feat!

Does the ick go away?

Sometimes, you can overcome. But it depends on what the ick is. Some things that cause the ick can be changed, especially if they’re related to idiosyncratic behaviors that a person is willing to curtail. However, this is when introspection comes in handy. You might feel like you’re getting the ick, but is the feeling really your body’s gut reaction? Perhaps subconsciously you know the relationship won’t head in the right direction. In that case, it’s a lot harder to manage the ick.

If you’re struggling to figure out whether or not this feeling will ever go away, there is a little test you can try. Imagine the ick, and think about what it would be like if someone else was doing it. Let’s say you’re getting the ick from your partner chewing loudly. Now, think about what would happen if your friend or a Hollywood celebrity did that. Would you still be grossed out by it? If so, the behavior is likely just a pet peeve. Therefore, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you can handle it. 

If the thought of anyone else chewing loudly doesn’t fill you with the same amount of disgust, there may be a deeper underlying issue causing the ick. In this case, you need to get to the bottom of it ASAP, particularly if you’re in a relationship you’d like to keep. Your mind could be sending you a sign that there are major red flags afoot. If you don’t address them now, your chances at long-term compatibility will suffer. 

Can you get the ick with friends?

While the ick is often linked with romantic relationships, you can get it with friendships as well. You could be pretty decent friends with someone and then suddenly, you see another side of them that doesn’t correspond with what you’re looking for in a friendship. Again, this could be a form of self-defense where you’re protecting yourself from getting hurt or taken advantage of. 

If you start feeling the ick in friendships, it’s just as important to decide whether or not this is simply a personality quirk that you can deal with or a deal breaker. Keeping a friend in your life that gives you the ick can be more stressful than what it’s worth. 

What does getting the ick mean in a relationship?

To be honest, getting the ick can mean nothing, or it can mean everything. We know that probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for. It really does come down to what the ick is and the reasons behind it. This is why it’s so important to try and analyze what’s happening and why you’re suddenly so repulsed or turned off by the person you used to feel differently about. 

Can the ick be something else?

If you’re one of the people who is blindsided by the ick, you may want to explore your feelings more thoroughly. Our minds have a weird way of playing tricks on us—the ick could be anxiety or the fear of rejection manifesting itself as something else. Reflect on your recent thoughts. Is there an ongoing concern that this person may eventually reject you? If so, you may be trying to reject them first.

You could also be using the ick to guard yourself. Are you reluctant to become intimate with another person? This may be true if you’ve recently been in a relationship where you were hurt by the other person. In this case, take care not to sabotage a relationship that could turn out to be great. But still listen to what your mind and body are trying to tell you. 

What is the best way to navigate the ick in a relationship?

So you’ve suddenly started to feel the ick but want to try and make the relationship work. One of the first things you need to do is look at the relationship itself. Is it making you happy? Are you interested in pursuing it long-term, or can you see a clear future for you two? 

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, then figure out what exactly is causing the ick. Take the proper time and space to think. This means avoiding jumping to negative conclusions after a stressful day at work. In fact, if you’ve been in a bad mood in general, wait until things in your life cool down before returning to the ick. When you’re ready, patiently trace the roots of the ick to its true cause.

If it’s something related to hygiene, does this point to a bigger issue? Let’s say that someone refuses to floss their teeth while having problems with bad breath. Does this mean they don’t go to the dentist or care about oral health? Are they also neglecting their overall health and wellness? Do they go for routine STD testing? Could the seemingly small issue of oral health eventually negatively impact you? Once you start going down this rabbit hole, you may begin to see the real reason causing the ick. This then gives you the information you need to have a meaningful and honest conversation. Then you can decide if this is a deal breaker or something that can be fixed. In this case, the other person may not floss because it hurts their gums and they may be scared to go to the dentist. That’s definitely something that you can work through together. 

What if they feel the ick factor towards me?

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us realize we have some quirks that likely seem strange to others. We may have grown up behaving or thinking a certain way because that’s how our parents taught us. Although we may not consider it a big deal, it could be the very thing that causes the ick factor for someone else. 

If you are the person with the icky behavior, try not to be hurt or too offended. The best thing you can do is own the behavior and its potential ick factor. You won’t get anywhere by insisting stubbornly that there’s nothing wrong with your actions. Keep the same open mind you expect the other person to have. After all, there’s no such thing as normal. Finally, try to understand why they’re repulsed by your behavior. Are there any ways you can fix it? Do you even want to change anything? 

How do you move forward after the ick factor?

Once you’ve had some tough but honest conversations regarding what is causing the icky feelings between you two, it’s time to decide how you want to move forward. If you really care about someone else and want to try to change your own behavior, you can always talk to a psychotherapist, clinical psychologist, or relationship expert who can help guide you along in the process. 

No matter what you’re facing, you’re not alone. Remember that many couples experience the ick factor at some point in their relationships. The ick factor isn’t the nail in the coffin for healthy relationships as long as both people are willing to work together to overcome it. If you’re unconvinced, try to find related stories of romantic relationships where people have gone through hell and still managed to stay together through thick and thin. These inspiring stories may be just the thing you need to work your way towards a healthier, non-icky relationship.

How do you know when to walk away?

We’ve mostly focused on navigating your way through the ick factor in order to make a relationship work. However, you also need to know what your boundaries are. Defining them will help you know when to walk away from a relationship or situationship. The ick factor may be a major red flag that a relationship isn’t meant to be. But how do you know when to walk away?

Fortunately, there are a couple of strong signs. If the icky behavior starts to impact your mental health or is in any way mentally or physically abusive, consider walking away. This is different than some unsightly behavior that makes you cringe. This is more along the lines of someone making you feel bad about yourself or the situation you’re in. 

Where are other resources?

If you’re struggling to overcome the ick factor and are looking for more resources, don’t forget there is a wealth of resources out there. From relationship know-hows on the internet to a plethora of podcasts full of relationship tips, you can easily find the information you need to get through this difficult time. 

How do you prevent the ick factor in the future?

If you’re currently single or have just started a new relationship, you may be a bit worried about when the ick factor will hit you. You may even be searching for ways to prevent it from happening. Sorry to tell you but completely eliminating the risk of it happening is virtually impossible. This is because the ick factor can be an important defense mechanism. These are the behaviors that are ingrained in us to keep us safe. You wouldn’t want to lose any of your defense mechanisms, would you? 

Rather than fearing the ick factor, try to keep an open mind about it. Whatever you do, don’t panic and try to fight it. Instead, try to understand it and why it’s happening. Have a game plan in place on how you will approach it when and if it does happen, and be prepared to put it into place before the relationship begins to suffer from it. 

Conquering the Ick

We hope this guide to navigating the ick factor has given you the confidence to work on your relationship! If you’re single, hopefully this will give you the courage to get back on those dating apps and arrange your next first date. You never know when you’re going to meet “the one”! When you do, don’t be afraid of the ick. Embrace the opportunity to grow, and keep an open mind about human behavior. There may be a good reason for the icky action. Or it might be time to try to dodge a bullet heading your way.

If you want to read more relationship advice, make sure to head over to our Connect blog. It’s full of helpful articles covering everything from keeping kids engaged after school to dealing with manipulation and gaslighting in relationships. Don’t forget to also pick up your copy of Adventures From Scratch! With options for friends, families, and couples, our books will help you strengthen bonds on new adventures whenever the mood strikes!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is “the ick factor”?

The ick factor is a sudden feeling of repulsion you feel while being in a romantic relationship. It could be caused by a certain behavior or a difference in morals. It’s a common occurrence!

How can you overcome the ick?

To overcome the ick in a relationship, you need to understand why it’s happening. If it’s simply an annoyance, grab your copy of Adventures From Scratch for a date night, and fall in love again!

Is there a way to avoid the ick?

One of the best ways to avoid the ick is to spend quality time together. Adventures From Scratch is a great way to make everyday things fun and can help keep the ick away.

Can you get past the ick?

It’s possible to get past the ick. You first need to figure out why you’re feeling that way. From there, be honest with one another to try to overcome the issue. Communication is key here.

What are some icks in a relationship?

Some common icks people feel in relationships include being grossed out by hygiene issues, finding out someone snores like a freight train, or discovering a major difference in values.

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