Guest blog: How to cultivate compersion

Image by the amazing Stuart F Taylor

A while ago I asked people to teach me how to feel compersion. I wanted to get my head around the idea of my partner being with other people, and build on the happy/horny feelings that sometimes sparked, without triggering a whole world of jealousy and insecurity. So massive thanks to this week’s guest blogger, the fabulous non-monogamous Amy of CoffeeAndKink (@CoffeeAndKink), for submitting such a gorgeous, personal explanation of what it’s like for her, and how to cultivate compersion in relationships.

How to cultivate compersion

Compersion is a bit like a mirage – in that the more you chase after it, the harder it seems to run away.

What do we mean by compersion, first of all? Simply put, it’s a specific kind of joy that comes from being happy to see your partner happy with someone else. So when I see my sweetie The Artist being all snuggly with their primary partner, The Minstrel, and I feel all warm and fuzzy? That’s compersion. Some people specify that compersion is “non-sexual” joy, but I don’t subscribe to that notion. After all, why is it any less compersion if I’m happy seeing my partner happy with someone else… but also if watching them fuck (and/or hearing about it) turns me on? Likewise, some people describe compersion as “the opposite of jealousy,” which – though a nice descriptor, in so far as it goes – is woefully simplistic compared to the actual reality of this complex emotion. Besides, it’s entirely possible to feel compersion and jealousy at the same time, something I have experienced many times in the decade and change that I’ve been practicing non-monogamy.

Compersion and I have an uneasy relationship. It both comes easily to me and it doesn’t. I both love it and resent it.

When I feel totally secure in a relationship, when I know and feel deeply that my partner loves me and that their feelings for someone else won’t change that, compersion comes easily. So what’s the catch? Obviously the catch is that I have a not insignificant amount of trauma, distinctly above average levels of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and probably an insecure attachment style. Oh, and that time my then-fiancé left me for someone else. Feeling secure is hard for me, because there’s a large part of me that simply doesn’t believe I am worth loving or deserving of a committed and secure relationship. In that mindset, compersion is almost impossible because my lizard brain is responding to a partner’s interests elsewhere as a perceived threat, even if there is no actual threat

But when I do have those flashes of what real safety and security feels like, when my emotions allow me to believe what my rational brain knows to be true – that I am safe, and wanted, and that my partners love me – then it’s easy to let the warm fuzzies come and take deep delight in their joy.

That feeling of compersion, when it comes, is like nothing else. It’s a rush of love for my partner and affection for my metamour, as well as the simple delight in seeing someone (sometimes two someones) that you love being happy. Sometimes it’s sexual, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it settles over you cosily, like sliding into a warm bath, and sometimes it feels like it’s punched you in the gut… in a good way.

When it’s hard, though, I often find myself resenting the notion of compersion. When I’m feeling scared and threatened, there’s a small and petty part of my brain that screams “it’s not enough for me to be OKAY with my partner doing this, you’re now demanding I feel HAPPY about it!?” To be clear, no-one – or no-one actually connected to the situation – is usually, in fact, demanding this. But the non-monogamous community puts a lot of power behind the notion of compersion, to the point that a small but very vocal minority will tell you you’re a bad polyamorous person – or even (gasp) not actually polyamorous at all! – if you feel jealousy, insecurity, indifference, or anything less than perfect compersion. Nothing will make a person resent a notion faster than being ordered to subscribe to it, lest they be shamed or banished from the “in group.”

So what to do if you want to cultivate compersion? I have a few pointers for you.

  • Don’t chase it too aggressively! Attempting to force yourself to feel, or not feel, any particular emotion rarely ends well. It also doesn’t work.
  • Learn to acknowledge all your feelings for what they are, and sit with them. Feelings have no moral value – only actions do. Paradoxically, acknowledging feelings such as jealousy, insecurity, pettiness or possessiveness without judgement is likely to open you up more to allowing the more positive and happy feelings to come through as well.
  • Practice building a robust sense of personal security. No-one is perfectly secure all the time, and the people who look like they are tend to be faking it. Work on your sense of self, your self-esteem, and your feeling of being secure within your relationship. You can ask your partners for support here, but I also recommend seeking out a good polyam-friendly therapist.
  • Practice feeling happiness for other people’s happiness in areas of your life not connected to romance or sex. That colleague who got a promotion, that girl from high school who just got married, that friend who achieved their goal to run a marathon… consciously and deliberately practice vicariously getting pleasure from their joy.
  • Get to know your metamour. I cannot state this one enough! A real, flesh-and-blood person is almost always less threatening than an abstract concept or your idea of what they’ll be like. It’s easier to cultivate compersion if your metamour is a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance.
    Make sure your needs are getting met. It’s hard to feel compersion if your partner ignores or sidelines you when someone else is around, or even if your relationship is just generally not in the best shape. Ask for what you need and speak up if something isn’t working for you.

With all that said, I wanted to leave you with one final pointer: don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there, now or ever. Compersion is lovely, but it’s not essential to creating a happy and harmonious non-monogamous life. You’re no less polyamorous (or a swinger, or non-monogamous, or however you identify) if it doesn’t come to you easily or at all.

1 Comment

  • As a monogamous husband without any real desire to open the relationship, I am absolutely intrigued by the idea of compersion. The first post on GOTN about it hooked me (the word AND idea being completely foreign to me), and I continued learning about it. While the specific definition above may not totally apply to my relationship, I’m interested in cultivating it in other avenues of life.

    The Wife and I have been through a couple of bouts of insecurity and jealousy in our 15 years together, and we’ve both hated those feelings. We aren’t jealous people. But while I think we both WANT our love to extend to experiences (non-sexual) outside of our primary relationship, it feels a bit like playing with fire.

    My approach so far has been to intellectualize it and journal my thoughts extensively. An academic approach I know, but hopefully it leads to somewhere wherein I feel comfortable with the reality of The Wife receiving joy and pleasure in experiences with others (beyond girlfriends, coworkers, etc.) rather than feeling jealous that it’s not me she’s deriving that pleasure from or insecurity that joy from another person (likely an available male in our case) is somehow a threat to our relationship.

    I love it in concept, but I think it’s a slower journey in reality when you have a lot at stake and it’s not your natural emotional inclincation.

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