Picture this: You’ve been seeing someone for a few weeks or months. You think they're hilarious, they find you brilliant. It seems like you’re both counting down the days until your next date. You’re enjoying getting to know each other, planning weekend trips to the beach, and meeting the friends over cocktails and dinner parties. You sneak smiles from across crowded rooms. Your heart skips a beat when their name appears on your iPhone.
And then one day, almost as if out of nowhere, everything changes. The butterflies have been evicted from your stomach, the idea of embracing them makes you cringe, and you can’t imagine what you ever saw in this person.
If that feeling seems familiar, you’ve suffered from Sudden Repulsion Syndrome.
The condition—a term created by writers rather than medical professionals—has been defined by Urban Dictionary as something “many people experience after dating an individual for a short amount of time. The individual is probably polite, nice, and generally pleasant to be around but one day, you suddenly find yourself disgusted by his or her appearance. You cannot ever see yourself establishing a physical relationship with this individual…The consequence of SRS is that you end up feeling as though you must break it off immediately.”
Type the words “sudden repulsion syndrome” into Google and the search field auto-fills with a question many have struggled with: “Is sudden repulsion syndrome real?” And second to that question is: “Sudden repulsion syndrome in marriage.”
So the question is: Can you really go from being completely enamored with your significant other to totally disgusted in what feels like an instant? Dr. Jenn Mann, psychotherapist, the host of Couples Therapy on VH1, and author of The Relationship Fix: Dr. Jenn's 6-Step Guide to Improving Communication, Connection & Intimacy, thinks so.
“I have certainly seen this take place many times throughout my many years of being a therapist,” she says. “When it happens to you, it's pretty horrific on either side.” She adds that the condition can be the result of a fear of intimacy. “Sometimes a person starts to develop feelings for the person they are dating and then suddenly get scared off. This feeling of being turned off or revolted by the other person is just a defense mechanism.”
Another cause of SRS can be as simple as ignoring your intuition. “Maybe he's under a lot of pressure from his mother to get married,” Dr. Mann says. “Maybe she feels her biological clock ticking, and in his or her desire to be in a committed relationship, he/she overlooks too many things. Eventually, they wake up and find themselves turned off by their partner.”
But Dr. Paulette Sherman, a psychologist and author of Dating from the Inside Out, believes that SRS may actually be the fault of the superficiality of modern dating culture.
“I always felt this was an indication of the increasingly shallow nature of dating and our society’s ability to create intimate soulful relationships,” she says. “The beginning of dating is often attraction based. I've always wondered if the feelings switch from hot to cold because they were so overwhelming and couldn't live up to the intensity, idealized expectations, and pressure long term.”
Hormones can also be to blame for an abrupt sea change in a relationship. “When we are 'in love,' hormones like dopamine (attraction) and oxytocin (attachment) surge and the amygdala (threat detector) in our brain sleeps so it doesn't detect threats and actions with long-term consequences too well,” Dr. Sherman says, adding that later, after those hormones have settled down, “you will suddenly see the imperfect parts of whatever person any may feel disappointed.”
While Sudden Repulsion Syndrome seems to rear its ugly head when you least expect it, there are ways you can prevent it in your relationship, and it can be as simple as the amount of time spent together. Dr. Sherman suggests taking things slow and starting things off by seeing each other once a week while still maintaining your own separate life and hobbies (an approach that can still be semi-implemented in a marriage).
This approach allows for taking in each other “gradually with less pressure, more objectivity, and have more time to reflect objectively on the relationship,” she believes.
Seeking out therapy is another way to identify and work on any underlying issues that might appear later in your relationship in the form of SRS.
“Self-awareness and a willingness to look at your own issues is the key to fighting SRS,” Dr. Mann explains. “Being aware of your reservations, your triggers, and knowing your family history and how it impacts you and your ability to have a relationship is key. Being in therapy individually and or as a couple is the best preventative medicine.”
But while Sudden Repulsion Syndrome can be scary, it can also serve as a learning experience for many.
“Dating [and relationships] can teach us what we like and don't in the other person but it can also teach us our own obstacles to love and intimacy,” says Dr. Sherman. “It can show you how your limiting beliefs and fears and preconceived notions may separate you from intimacy, happiness, and a mature conscious relationship—it can be a mirror to grow and improve ourselves.”