Polyamory has as many perks as a garden’s got roses, and smells just as sweet. All that community, camaraderie, and abundant communication, plus a whole spate of sweet humans in your life who love you – and not to mention that ever-evolving sex life. Is there anything better?
Looking at it from the outside, opening your romantic life up to polyamory can feel like a concept ripped straight out of Eden. But like all gardens, it’s one thing to take a stroll and look around; it’s a whole other to get immersed in taking care of it yourself.
If you’d like to eat that juicy fruit right off the vine, you need to put effort and time in every single day for it to grow. And the same as how a garden needs water if it’s ever going to flower, your polyamorous lifestyle needs one special component to get it nice and lush and thriving – and that ingredient is compersion.
What is compersion?
The cornerstone of successful polyamory, compersion is a must if you’re planning on opening the doors of your relationship to other humans. If you’re polyamorous, you and your partners will be forging intimate connections with other people. No matter the configuration of polyamory you’re in, odds are your partners will be seeing at least one other person. To not only weather that reality but thrive in it – especially as you first transition out of the monogamous mindset – you’ll need compersion to keep you afloat.
Best described as the opposite of jealousy, compersion is that feeling of joy that bubbles up in you when you watch someone else enjoying success or happiness. Rather than comparing their success or good fortune to your own circumstances, compersion (at its simplest) is feeling happy for someone else just because they’re happy.
Sometimes though, jealousy wants to keep that compersion at bay. Romance aside, think about the feeling you get when you see someone else enjoying the career path you wished you had. It can be so frustrating to feel like you’re not making the progress you wish you were – and by extension, it may be hard to feel excited for the person enjoying that success.
Likewise, when monogamous folks see someone else getting cozy with their significant other, that same jealousy, anger, or fear can boil over and cause problems at home. With compersion, that feeling takes a backseat to the joy of seeing a person you love enjoy themselves. When people feel compersion – truly and authentically – they’re freed up to be the happiest person they can be without comparing their circumstances to others.
Why does it matter?
Take a second to reflect on some of the stupider, more drawn-out fights in your romantic relationships. Then think about the times you may have acted petty. How many of those moments were because of jealousy? How about because you felt scarce in the moment?
Compersion is vital to any relationship – even monogamous ones – because jealousy is the root of countless arguments and moments of tension. Often, couples fight when they’re jealous over things that haven’t even happened. Jealousy encourages the downward spiral and gets folks imagining all kinds of things that didn’t happen or haven’t yet happened.
Likewise, when we’re jealous, we don’t communicate. We hold our cards close and treat our relationship like a game rather than a partnership between two human beings who are just trying their best.
When you invite compersion into your life, you’ll find it easier to zoom out a little and see your partners as autonomous individuals with hopes and goals, rather than folks serving out roles in a relationship. With compersion at the centerpiece of your romantic interactions, you’ll find it so much easier to focus on both your partner’s happiness and your own. And when you both feel like you can talk to each other authentically without the other getting defensive and jealous, trust is built.
Not only do you trust them to come home to you, you also trust them to have a greater sense of self, to take care of who they are, and to communicate better with you about even the littlest things. The more trust you have, the greater the heights your love will take you to.
For polyamory, there’s nothing more critical than that sense of peace and open communication. Compersion is essential to finding calm in the midst of change, especially when it’s your relationship dynamic that’s doing the changing. With compersion in your corner, you have support systems in place with your partners that help you both communicate throughout these big changes.
That being said, compersion has its place in monogamy too. Even people who have no interest in opening their relationship’s doors can stand to grow from trusting their partner to do what’s best, act with integrity, and feel excited for them as they seek out new opportunities and friendships.
Think about it. If we’re having a hard time making the career moves we want and our partner suddenly gets a big promotion, it’s easy to feel jealous instead of excited for the person we love. When we’re jealous of their success, it’s difficult to be as present and supportive as our partners need and deserve. In a way, jealousy has taken their special moment and turned it into something about us. That’s where compersion comes in.
In monogamous relationships, jealousy about the little things, like who your partner befriends or talking for too long with someone new, can trigger resentment and conflict. Acknowledging that jealousy isn’t serving either of you would open you up to more intimacy and happiness thanks to the way you both work together to support each other thoroughly.
Polyamorous, monogamous, or ethically non-monogamous, compersion is something every relationship needs if it hopes to stand a chance at thriving.
How do I cultivate compersion?
Like anything, learning compersion is a process. It’s not something that just comes to fruition overnight. Instead, it has to be cultivated and nurtured for it to flourish in our relationships. And like all good things, that takes work.
You’ve already got the right idea in mind by reading up on compersion right here and now. Doing some research, reading, and watching videos on the topic are all great ways to help you see compersion in action and better understand why you’re feeling how you’re feeling. If you’re really struggling with jealousy, consider getting your hands on The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola. Either working alone or with your partners, you can work through the questions and activities to think more about what sparks that jealousy and what framework from your past has informed your present moment.
However, self-improvement books and theoretical jargon don’t get you very far when you’re elbows deep in your first threesome. For polyamory in practice, there’s nothing more important when building compersion than trust. Compersion comes more naturally when you trust your partners to always treat you with dignity and respect.
While you’re establishing that trust – or if you and your partner(s) already trust each other fully, build that compersion in you by seeking out the feeling in non-romantic or sexual settings. Whenever something good happens to others, really let yourself feel happy and excited for them, especially when it’s difficult for you. Whether that’s a new promotion, baking some great bread, or getting some new thing off the internet you’ve been dying to buy for months now, explore feeling excited for them, rather than comparing it to your own success or feeling jealous. The more you explore compersion in these more neutral settings, the more natural it’ll feel when you’re cultivating it in your polyamorous relationships.
As you grow, be patient with yourself. And remember: concepts are one thing; making it a reality is another. A good place to start incorporating the feeling into your life’s fabric is noticing the moments when you’re jealous – and asking yourself what compersion might feel like in those situations instead. At times, you might even find your compersion popping up right alongside your jealousy. It makes sense; while you want to be happy for them – but you feel jealous, too. That’s totally okay; we’re all a work in progress, right?
When that jealousy crops up (and it will), seek out compersion instead and ask yourself what you can be excited about for your partners. Find the positives and embrace them. Letting your partners know that you support them and are happy for them – even while you’re still working through your jealousy – will only help you cultivate that feeling in real time.
Are you jealous about personal time? Sex? Gift giving? When one person gives another any kind of general attention? Whatever it is, see what happens when you explore those instances through the lens of compersion. What kinds of things would your partner(s) be feeling that make them happy at that moment? Even if you don’t truly feel it in your body, just thinking about what compersion might make you feel can help you establish the framework in the context of your own personal life, making compersion something real, instead of just a concept.
But compersion isn’t a solo act. If you’re heading into polyamory, you already know communication is a must. And there’s no better way to help your compersion actually take root than by talking it out with your partners. Start by being vulnerable about your feelings. Oddly, discussing your jealousy is a great way to let it go. Tell your partner that you want to feel compersion, but are struggling and still have feelings of jealousy.
Make it clear you want to work on this as a team and grow together. Talk both about the feelings you’re having, as well as the feelings you want to have – talk about how you hope to be excited for them, rather than jealous, and together you can develop strategies for making that compersion into a reality.
Of course, all of that works much more easily if you and your partners talk out your boundaries and hopes for each relationship. Avoid falling into unicorn-hunting territory as you do by keeping compersion at the forefront of your mind. Imagine what all partners must be feeling and what they’re hoping for out of a relationship.
Be open to what your partners say, and really listen as they talk it out. Make sure all boundaries are clear and expectations smooth as you expand into new polyamorous horizons together. If you and your partners don’t know the rules, how can you know what to expect and when you might hurt some feelings?
And as eager as you might be to just plunge right in and make your life a far-out poly heaven, the truth is that compersion only grows – and polyamory only thrives – when you grow at the pace that works best for you. Be honest with where you’re at and talk to your partners about what comes up for you when it comes to jealousy or uncertainty. Taking the time to be vulnerable is a pivotal way to change and adapt to the life you want.
One step at a time!
It may seem scary at first, but when you frame polyamory in compersion, love and intimacy with multiple partners is a dang gift. With a little practice, compersion will come naturally in all facets of your life. The more you consciously choose compersion in your every day, the more joy and abundance you’ll find in your love life. Remember: love is truly a boundless act. The more you give to others, the more love you’ll find you have left in you to keep on dishin’ out.
If you’re already in the poly world, tell us what you do to cultivate compersion with your partners!