Imagine this scenario: one evening you look out your window to the street below just in time to catch your partner returning from a date with a new crush. As your eyes rest on their hands, fingers interlaced comfortably, you notice the spring in your partner’s step, the giddy smile, the buoyant vibe emanating from them both. Then, two heads lean together, and as you witness the drawn-out, sensual goodnight kiss, you feel . . . at peace, happy for your partner, and maybe even a little turned on. Huh?
On the web, compersion is widely described as the feeling of joy at seeing one’s partner derive pleasure (not necessarily sexual) from a loving relationship with someone else. Or, in other words, it’s the opposite of jealousy. The idea seems to be that if everyone’s needs are being spelled out and met in the primary relationship, then it becomes a little easier to watch one’s partner experiencing NRE with someone else, and still feel secure in the strength and love provided by the initial relationship. When this ideal state is reached, experiencing your partner’s happiness second-hand and being happy for him or her rather than turning inward and seeing the new spark as a lack or loss for yourself is more of a choice than an impossibility. This argument obviously goes against the “common knowledge” of jealousy as a feature of human nature, and even the belief held by many that it’s a healthy feeling to experience when you’re mad about someone.
Anita Wagner Illig from Practicalpolyamory.com, explores this topic thoroughly in her downloadable article, Cultivating the Spirit of Compersion in Polyamorous Relationships. As Wagner outlines in her article, Jealousy is about fear, and compersion can only be felt when we truly accept fear – whether it’s fear of abandonment, loss, change, or something unknown – and work to move past it. Standing in the way we may also find competition and possessiveness, two other uglies very familiar to poly folks.
In order to have honest and open connections with others, we need to do some serious work on ourselves to challenge the default reactions and assumptions that our society has cultivated surrounding relationships and love. It’s worth taking some private time to think about your feelings regarding ownership of another person, especially one whom you love dearly. Talking to your partner about your feelings, even when you’re still struggling along the rocky road to compersion, even when you may be embarrassed or ashamed at the place you find yourself stuck, can be a great relief. You may even find that your partner is having the same issues, and being aware of one another’s journey from jealousy to compersion will remind you that you’ve got someone close who understands and supports you – and it’s the very person you most want to see happy.
For further reading on the subject of jealousy and compersion, I highly suggest Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.
For those experienced in poly love: Have you got any tips to share about overcoming jealousy and reaching a state of compersion?