Compersion: Good in theory. . .

There is a lot of rationale used in how to deal with jealousy, but the truth is, no amount of rationalizing can override that raw emotion. As someone who struggles with jealousy, and whose true desire for openness conflicts with those feelings, this was a depressing realization. Then I read this quote from Tristan Taormino, a well-known sex educator:

“By all accounts, an open marriage is hard work. Yet the sort of people who go about an open relationship in a sensible manner will devote themselves to unpicking possessive and jealous instincts as much as they can. Our automatic response is ‘You’re mine and nobody else is gonna have you,’ even if your higher motives are: I want freedom and I want you to have freedom.”

Wow. It’s like she paraphrased my own thoughts on the subject. She also says people unpick the instincts. Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? How do you unpick something if it’s instinctual? The answer is something I wasn’t expecting:


I am not a fan of compersion, not because I don’t think it’s great in theory – I just think it’s unrealistic in practice. For those who don’t know, compersion is when you no longer feel jealousy, but in fact feel joy at your partner’s outside pursuits. Joy. This is such a stretch for me. It’s not that I’m not ok with the idea of my partner being with other women, but I certainly don’t revel in it. I’m not one of those people fortunate enough to get turned on by thought of my partner doing dirty things to other girls. I wish I was.

So for me, compersion is about as far reaching of a concept as monogamy. I’ve also had some negative experiences in the “poly community,” where particularly haughty couples have literally looked down their noses and condemned me for experiencing (or admitting) jealousy. “Jealousy is about insecurity, it’s a wasted emotion,” they sneer. ”We practice compersion.” Try to imagine a fat, balding man with a martini glass practically purring as he says the word. So yeah, I’m a little jaded.

But as Taormino puts it, “Compersion is what you feel when you have reprogrammed your brain not to feel jealousy any more. Jealousy is learnt behaviour, reinforced by everything from complex German opera to advertising. Compersion aims to work with the heat and passion of jealousy and turn it into pleasure at seeing or knowing your other half is enjoying pleasure. It’s the sort of sympathetic joy that most people can only identify with from watching their kids have a great time.”

As one person describes it, ”It’s an almost spiritual state of being. There is a real power to being able to empathise with your other half’s feelings for their other lover. It is powerful because it is hard, but once you experience it, you find an emotional freedom that changes the way you view relationships.”

The key ingredient I’ve been missing with compersion is that it’s reprogramming your brain, and the understanding that it isn’t easy. I also read this, from one of my commenters*, who really put the concept of compersion into focus for me. “Maybe instead of instantly reacting to those feelings, consciously ask yourself, ‘Am I REALLY jealous? Or is this just a default reaction because this is how I learned to view love and relationships and sex?’ In other words, so much of what I know to be jealousy was a learned response: I was socialized to believe my partner should only love me, and I them, and if anyone else liked them, touched them, played with them, or had sex with them, I was supposed to be jealous. It was expected, and so was all the attendant drama that ensued when acting out around it.”

So maybe compersion isn’t so unattainable. Maybe with practice, we can learn to unlearn, and retrain the brain until the automatic response is happiness instead of jealousy.

But how does one begin that process?

*Forgive me, I don’t know who said this, if it was you please raise your hand!

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