We are grateful to our five panelists who discussed the good, bad, and the ugly sides of compersion. Compersion is a feeling of joy from others’ pleasure, specifically celebrating your partner(s)’ other relationships in a polyamorous structure. The term was coined about forty years ago using a ouija board – seriously! The panelists who shared their stories with us included one couple who had recently gotten married after 5 years together, one person practicing solo polyamory for two years, and one couple who have been with each other for two years and practicing polyamory separately for longer. Through the engaging Q&A between the Curious Foxes, we have identified several core questions:
What is compersion? Why is it important? How do we apply it?
Compersion is a relative term, since it can mean so many different things to people. While some enthusiastically root for their partners’ other relationships, for others the concept of compersion may not resonate at all. One panelist exclaimed, “Compersion is this thing people have panels about!” The panelists agreed that compersion is not necessary for maintaining a happy and healthy relationship. If it is important to you, you can convey it in your preferred relationship design. Interestingly, some feel compersion and jealousy simultaneously. They can coexist. The mechanism of this is unclear: maybe both feelings are occurring at the same time, or maybe our mind is rapidly switching back and forth similar to how we multitask tabs on our internet browser.
Compersion is not just a feeling: it is a tool. It helps us take agency in our feelings: the positive and the negative. One panelist reflected on how compersion helps them decide to channel positivity: “I want to feel this way… I think I will!” In the same vein, one panelist framed compersion as a deliberate practice with the core intention of gratitude. This gratitude celebrated their partners, as well as their partners’ partners who shaped them into who they are.
In parallel with the practice of compersion is the intellectualized approach to jealousy. Both feelings entail making conscious choices about internalized mental frameworks and externalized communication. Many panelists agreed that the two were highly interrelated in their personal narratives. We discussed how jealousy acts as a warning light which requires “unpacking” in order to address the root cause. A significant step in this process for the jealous partner is taking the shame out of their jealousy and finding the words to describe it. For the receiver, rather than shame and scold, try to understand. Both sides should aim to approach jealousy and insecurity with curiosity and the intention to problem solve. We have the power to consciously adopt a “generous ear” – to err on the side of positivity. On the flip side, sometimes the most healthy outcome is for toxic partners to exit the structure.
Channeling positive and negative emotions – and their subsequent deconstruction and articulation – is part of implementing an intellectual override over jealousy, which stems from an innate fear of rejection. One Curious Fox challenged the panel to distinguish between an intellectual override and denying reality: how do you know whether you are choosing compersion over jealousy, or deluding yourself into believing certain behaviors are acceptable? The former entails making a conscious choice about how to feel and react to feelings, which does not involve, in the case of the latter, overwriting facts. If you are unsure, you can check in with a support network that you can trust to maintain an honest and objective viewpoint.
Although an emotional landscape is experienced internally, the panelists repeatedly discussed externalizing feelings to strengthen their relationships. Communication is necessary to foster compersion as well as resolve jealousy. There are many different strategies and styles across people: some choose to communicate as often as possible, keeping each other informed about developing relationships and vocalizing their jealousy; some prefer to negotiate comfort about revealing details as they go along; some process feelings by constructing introspective essays of six paragraphs (or ten); some only check-in after a major issue comes up that needs addressing. As a Curious Fox, it’s up to you to reflect on your communication style and how it is different from your partner(s)’, and view that as an evolving conversation and negotiation of needs to be met.
A key theme for this month is agency. You can take agency in how you define compersion, how you channel positivity, how you unpack jealousy, how you communicate with your parnter(s), and every choice you make in a relationship. Agency empowers us to be mindful about our thoughts, feelings, articulation, and actions. We look forward to exploring this more as it relates to future topics. Once again, we are honored to offer a platform for curiosity and exploration that enlightens the panel as much as the listeners.