By Poly Philia
The Holy Grail of the non-monogamous experience, compersion is the feeling of sympathetic joy when someone you love is happy with another person.
Imagine if you felt happy for your partner if they connected with another individual, rather than threatened? A truly emphatic emotion, compersion is the opposite of jealousy and is often seen as the ultimate state of mind for polyamorous relationships. But what are the common obstacles to experiencing compersion? Why do they occur? And how can you shift your mindset to cultivate compersion in your relationships?
The struggle for compersion
Many individuals struggle to feel compersion because they operate from a scarcity mindset of jealousy. In this circumstance, we view love as a zero-sum game: your partner is happy with someone else and, therefore, you think they are unhappy with you. It's difficult to feel compersion for your partner if you interpret their success in another relationship as a deficit in yours, or if you believe that if the other person ‘wins’ your partner, you will ‘lose’ them. You may feel that their joy with a new connection will mean they will grow apart from you – or even replace you – with this other person. This experience invites feelings of insecurity and fear of abandonment because you do not see it as an opportunity for growth. Your negative emotions are overriding the joy you could experience for your partner.
Roadblocks for compersion
Fear of abandonment is one of the most common reasons for jealousy and this is largely influenced by the culture of mononormativity. When someone in a monogamous relationship develops feelings outside of the set partnership boundaries, there is a possibility that this person will ultimately choose to leave that relationship. In media representations of traditional romance, we often compare potential love interests through a ‘love triangle’ trope or a contentious lens, with only one person emerging victorious.
Competitiveness is another roadblock to experiencing compersion. In the early stages of opening up a relationship, it can be tempting for some couples to keep score of who gets more dates or partners. This is unhelpful and leads to unnecessary comparison, whether it is between you and your partner, or between you and your metamour. This scenario also creates a false equivalence where the person who has more partners is perceived as ‘winning’ and benefitting from the situation and the person with fewer or no partners must then be ‘losing’.
Shifting your mindset
For committed non-monogamous people, the concept of leaving someone for someone else does not exist because you can have multiple partners. Why would you leave a partner who makes you happy for someone else who also makes you happy, if you have the freedom to be with both at the same time? In most scenarios, the only reason a person would have to leave their partner in a non-monogamous dynamic would be if they were no longer happy or fulfilled in their existing relationship, rather than being stolen away by someone new.
It’s important not to focus on perceived threats to your relationship but whether you and your partner feel loved, valued, and connected. The stronger your bond, the more you eventually understand that your partner can experience connection with others without it taking away anything from your relationship. You will share in this excitement and it can even enhance their feelings towards you. When you shift from the scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset, everyone wins!
Your partner connecting with others can also benefit you. It can contribute to their sense of happiness and fulfilment that can positively influence all the relationships they are in – including yours. If you are an introverted person, your partner dating other people can free up time for you to socially recharge or to spend time on your hobbies, work, or other personal projects. You may find that your partner’s needs are met in other relationships that relieves pressure on you. You can fulfil the desires you wish to fulfil and be your most authentic self, rather than try to mould or change for your partner’s happiness. Viewing yourself, your partners, and everyone else in your polycule as a cohesive team playing to your unique strengths and contributing to everyone’s overall happiness will lead to more positive results overall. Once you let go of the urge to compete with or compare yourself to others, you will see non-monogamy as a more collaborative opportunity and celebrate as a group, rather than only valuing individual success.
How to embrace compersion
It is important to note that while compersion is a lovely feeling, it is unrealistic to expect to move from negative feelings of fear and anxiety to suddenly feeling joy for your partner. Compersion is a lofty goal and it can be counterproductive and frustrating if you are a person who feels a lot of jealousy. If your journey of compersion is not progressing as quickly as you like, it can lead to guilt and shame and you can begin to doubt yourself and your readiness to practise polyamory. This does not leave any room for learning and growing.
If you and your partner experience differing amounts of compersion, it is unkind and unhelpful for the more compersive partner to shame the less compersive one. Moral superiority does not co-exist with compersion. Similarly, the degrees to which a person experiences jealousy can be because of factors beyond their control, such as their upbringing, their unique personal traumas and insecurities or simply the way their brain is wired. The more you pressure yourself to feel an emotion, the less able you are to do so. Be honest about how you are feeling and process your thoughts, be gentle with yourself and commit to your progress. Instead of aiming for compersion right away, it may be more productive to aim for a feeling of neutrality—it is more than enough to feel comfortable with or unaffected by your partner being with other people.
Compersion is an emotion that arises organically and cannot be forced or faked. It can manifest in a lot of different ways: excitement, joy, comfort, encouragement and even arousal. However, while it is a welcome perk to practising non-monogamy, it is not a prerequisite for a healthy and successful non-monogamous dynamic. It is not a moral failing if you cannot experience compersion, the most important thing is that you allow your partner the same freedoms as yourself, and appreciate and value the unique things your partner’s other connections bring to their lives.