'My Partner Is Perfect On Paper But I'm Not Physically Attracted To Him'

Here's what to do if you've developed the ick.
Vladimir Vladimirov via Getty Images

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Mutual attraction isn’t something you can fake, you either have it or you don’t. Sometimes it can grow. You can appreciate the way someone looks without feeling attracted to them. But, often it takes spending time with that person for the spark to develop.

Equally, this means you can find yourself being turned off by someone you used to fancy. Maybe you’ve found out that they aren’t a nice person or they have really bad hygiene. But these feelings can also come out of nowhere.

This week’s reader, Joy writes in: “After two marriages that have both ended in divorce due to being with narcissistic men, I am finding it difficult to be with someone new.

“I have been seeing a guy for 3 years now who is lovely, but I find myself not wanting to see him. I tense up if he touches me, and go through stages of wanting to be with him then a couple of months later just find him physically unattractive. He’s everything I need mentally and emotionally so why do I keep feeling this way?”

What she’s describing is quite common, some of us will refer to this feeling as “the ick.”

Is there something wrong with Joy or is she just as attracted to her partner as she thought she is?

Counselling Directory members Tom Bulpit and Billie Dunlevy write in.

Is it normal to start finding your partner unattractive?

Getting the ick is normal and can happen at different points in a relationship despite a strong initial attraction, according to Bulpit.

“The ick has a strong link to the concept of cognitive dissonance; a feeling of discomfort (what therapists call incongruence) when our behaviours or reality do not match our deeply held beliefs. For example, this lady has noted that she has endured some toxic relationships before,” he adds.

Why do some people start to feel unattracted to their partners?

’When we’ve been treated badly in the past, it can have a strong influence on our self-concept. We’ve become so used to being treated like crap we begin to think that’s somehow normal,” Bulpit says.

He explains that Joy is experiencing a bit of a mismatch. She describes her partner as being a great guy but this is different from her past experiences which makes her feel strange as it doesn’t fit what she thought was normal.

“She doesn’t know how to process it and if she did, she might have to really confront what happened in her previous bad relationships, and going back through that trauma might be scary and painful,” Bultpit adds.

However, Dunlevy thinks developing the ick could be caused by other factors. “Some potential reasons for this can be work stress, health issues, and conflict in the relationship.”

“Our desire for sex is not always about the other person either. If we are
struggling with our self-esteem, grieving, or disliking changes in our body this can affect our desire to engage in sex.”

What practical advice would you give this reader?

Whether we like it or not our past relationships affect the new ones we will enter.

“This is especially true when we have been in abusive or controlling relationships that lack mutual respect,” Dunlevy says.

She questions if, as the relationship is becoming more serious beyond the three-year mark, she might be triggered by unprocessed feelings regarding your previous marriages with narcissistic men. “It could also be valuable to you to work with a therapist to better understand what drew you to narcissistic men in the first place.”

Dunlevy continues: “There will be personal reasons for this, and working with a professional can help you to better understand your relational patterns.”

Bulpit agrees with Dunlevy and believes Joy could benefit from seeking therapy. “Counselling can be a safe space to explore past trauma and relationships, and unpack how they have affected and shaped us.”

However, he thinks she should try and communicate her feelings to her current partner. “Explain that you might be going through some past “stuff”, and instead of feeling guilty towards him, talk to him and ask for his help, love and support.”

Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.

Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost UK