What is Compersion in Monogamy and Polyamory?

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The term "compersion" refers to a type of joy in the happiness of others. It more specifically refers to the happiness one finds in their partner seeking out and enjoying sexual and romantic intimacy with other people in the world of consensually non-monogamous relationships. Learn more about compersion and how to cultivate it in your own life.


What Is Compersion?

In general, "compersion" refers to the polar opposite of jealousy. Rather than feeling possessive or envious of another person's joy, you join them in celebrating their good fortune.

The term was coined by Kerista, a San Francisco-based polyamorous community. The term is still popular among polyamorous people today. It's a catch-all phrase for the joy you might feel when your romantic partner enjoys the intimate and even sexual company of another person. Some monogamous people may be put off by the concept of compersion.

Others have drawn a parallel between compersion and the Buddhist concept of mudita, which translates as sympathetic joy. It is up to you and your partner to define sympathetic joy. For some, it may imply finding happiness in the joy of their partner, with no sexual overtones. Others may consider a more romantic component to be essential to their experience of compersion with their partners.


How Does Compersion Work in Nonmonogamous Relationships?

Compersion is essential in the context of an open relationship. It is felt by nonmonogamous people when their primary partners seek sexual relationships with metamours (or additional lovers). It's common for general feelings of happiness to mix with jealousy. Nonetheless, people in nonmonogamous relationships view jealousy and compersion as emotions with which they can work to grow as individuals and members of relationship networks.


Compersion in Monogamy

Even if you and your partner have no interest in romantic or sexual nonmonogamy, you can experience compersion. There's no need to introduce any sexual compersion into your relationship to feel the emotion more broadly.

You're experiencing compersion if, for example, you're happy when your romantic partner has separate relationships with their friends and family members. They've most likely felt the same way about you enjoying your own friendships and family ties. Similarly, even if there is no romantic or sexual component involved, it is possible to be jealous of a partner's friendships.


How to Foster Compersion

To make compersion a positive experience, you must learn to control your possessive tendencies. Here are some ideas to help you foster competition:

Allow for complexities. Although compersion is primarily a positive emotion, it is possible to experience negative emotions alongside it. You might even feel jealousy at the same time as you feel compersion. Allow yourself to feel all of your emotions because the human heart is complex.

Accept jealousy. Be prepared to experience romantic jealousy while attempting to instill a sense of sexual compersion in your partner. Nonetheless, jealousy can serve as a teacher. Ask yourself why you feel this way, especially if your partner is still as devoted to you as they were before you both started dating. Accepting jealousy as one of many emotions increases your chances of learning to control it.

Be honest. If you experience negative emotions as a result of your partner's happiness with others, be honest with yourself and your partner about how it affects you. These feelings could be a stumbling block on the path to happy and consensual nonmonogamy, or they could be evidence that you're happier in a completely monogamous relationship. Remind yourself that it's fine to be polyamorous or monogamous—the most important things are openness and honesty in either case. Emotional vulnerability can even help to strengthen a couple's relationship.

Define what compersion means to you. While feelings of compersion are common in polyamory, they can also be felt in a monogamous relationship. Discuss with your partner the relationships you have outside of your own, whether they are friendly or romantic. Discuss what makes you happy, what makes you unhappy, and why and how you find happiness in other people's company.

Learn from discomfort. Jealousy and discomfort may indicate that you have unmet needs in your primary relationship. Pay attention to how you feel. Allow them to make you reactive rather than observe them mindfully. Discomfort frequently allows you to grow more than you would have been able to otherwise.

Practice empathy. Finding happiness in your partner's happiness is the definition of both compersion and empathy. Take a moment to acknowledge your partner's own joy, whether in a friendly or romantic relationship. Recognize that their happiness in spending quality time with others has no bearing on their happiness in spending time with you. As you investigate what compersion can mean to both of you, try to see things from their point of view.

Take small steps. Take things slowly as you open yourself up to experiencing compersion of some kind. Prioritize your partner's and your own mental health and well-being. There's no reason to enter a polyamorous relationship if neither of you is ready or interested. Compersion can include consensual nonmonogamy, but it does not have to.

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