Simmering Relationships? Nice Idea....

I read a weekend magazine article imploring us to have simmering relationships. Apparently the British like to cuddle, but this removes the erotic dimension from couple's relationships. Simmering aims to put the erotic back in.

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Rather than focussing on fast-food, or quick-recipes, simmering is aimed at long all day sexual feasting.

The idea is to keep the temperature in a relationship at just hot enough to avoid burning and boiling over, or going into deep-freeze, in order to cultivate an erotically charged atmosphere between couples.  The perfect long range eroticism.

A kiss, a touch, a look, to keep the temp just so. Intercourse is not the aim, but the cultivation of a seriously smouldering sexuality is.  Sounds appealing doesn't it?  So should we all simmer this summer?

Well, as a couples therapist, I would say this is appealing but needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.  Because, as we all know, this is an air-brushed and fanciful view of a couple.  Couples, in reality, may spend some time simmering, but they also:

Freeze over, boil over, explode, remain uncooked, go bitter, poison each other, get too salty, too sweet, lose their taste, get lost at the back to the deep freeze, set the smoke detectors off, fancy another dish......

Hera, the Greek goddess of marriage, sends out thunderbolts when she's having a disagreement with Mr Zeus.  So this idea that long term relationships, should simmer, really, according to the goddess of marriage, is rather fanciful...

Each of these non-simmering states has a message, a meaning, a code between a couple.  If things have frozen over, especially in the sexuality department, there are generally serious underlying issues that need to be addressed.  Trying to simmer something frozen doesn't work.  We've all tried it.  You have to let it thaw first.  Sometimes you don't have to simmer, you just need to eat.  

Different couples work differently. Some get cooking quickly, others take days, weeks, or even months.  What works for one couple, doesn't work for another.  Couples are amazing unique and different. Paradoxically, as the how-to industry flourishes, the fact is that couples are having less and less sex.  Perhaps a more interesting place to start may be to understand the unstated or unconscious approach to "cooking" that a couple has developed and what that means.  Simmering is a cooking technique, but is it the right technique or a couple?  Maybe it works for some?  Well, that depends on exactly what they are trying to achieve.  There are all sorts of reasons why a couple want to intimate or not with each other. Working with couples I find that sexuality is hard to put a finger on. It evades detection.  It really doesn't respond to instruction.  It is a shadowy area, where we are only have some knowledge about our selves, and it expresses itself in unexpected ways.  It seems to do everything but what's in the instruction manual.  So, if you are trying to simmer this weekend, and you end up finding yourself in the back of the deep freeze, or exploding the pressure cooker, don't lose heart.  Perhaps you want to explore why things are not simmering, but you need some structure and help to do this?  This is where it might be useful to speak to a couples analyst will help you explore unsconscious material about what is going on between you as a couple.

Just like an architect or designer would look at re-designing  your kitchen, rather than a specific dish; an analyst will help you understand the unconscious or less obvious patterns that govern your relationship.  But the result may not be more simmering!  The encounter with the analyst is unpredictable and ungovernable.  All sort of strong emotions may be aroused in the couple.  Whether they lead to more distance or greater closeness is unknowable in advance.  The idea that a therapist can re-educate a couples psyche in order to manufacture greater intimacy is a myth.  What an analyst can do is provide an arena, a laboratory, to explore, and to speak about what is occuring between a couple; to create the setting in order to see the couple in action; to provide a structure to explore the couple's shadow material.  Generally, this sort of material defies neat ordering, or long-lasting pre-defined outcomes.  It stirs up much more profound longings and desires that need to be worked through over time.  

Ajay Khandelwal PhD

Ajay Khandelwal is an experienced psychotherapist and consultant. He welcomes contact and enquiries and is accepting new clients via zoom during the shut down.