Compersion is a term used to describe a certain experience in polyamorous relationships. It is that moment of relational empathy, where the feelings of love and shared pleasure with one’s partner with another person over-rides any feelings of jealousy.
Feelings are just feelings, and we should own up to them without labelling them as positive or negative, but feelings of jealousy can often come from other emotions, such as fear. Jealousy is often coupled with a sense of inferiority or insecurity, coming from a destabilization of dynamics. Change brings uncertainty, and this can include worries that one could be replaced or may have lost the established intimate connections and affections of the past.
The nature of polyamory creates opportunities for jealousy more frequently than monogamous relationships.
If we see jealousy as being a by-product of insecurity, perceived inferiority and fear of uncertainty, then to some extent it could be true that a lack of visibility and understanding of how polyamory works might result from the fact that it is a transgressive choice in our society. There is no “rule book”, and that lead to feelings of uncertainty, which may then feed into jealousy.
The very nature of polyamorous relationships constitutes multiple partners, and multiple relationship dynamics, intimacies and spaces. It is a complex constructive approach to relationships, as opposed to the binary monogamous structure, and this often creates confusion among the parties involved. The lack of clarity as to how three (or more) persons develop a shared future, with each person being given balance and positive space, often contributes to feelings of uncertainty, and hence, possibly jealousy.
If clarity is provided, insecurity and inferiority are often resolved, and this gives jealousy a chance to wilt and morph into compersion. Of course, such clarity requires immense amounts of negotiation and communication between all parties, until everyone comes to a similar vision of the possible future. But, once clarity is achieved and interpersonal relationship security is ensured, i personally think it’s not very difficult to understand and experience compersion. If i love my partner, i would love to know that my partner has a great experience with others that he loves.
i remember there was a time when we (Master, Master’s pup, and myself; slaveboy) were spending some time in the south of Malaysia. It was at the very beginning of our relationships, and it was confusing for me to grasp the concept of polyamory. We were by the swimming pool as i swam further away watching Master and His pup resting on the beach chairs, i felt a moment of love, being able to closely observe and be part of the experience of a BDSM relationship that works. i didn’t feel any sense of jealousy in that moment, i cherished their moment of peacefulness together from near distance.
That was my very first experience of compersion and it still follows me until this day. i believe that being a slaveboy to someone isn’t about taking all the attention for myself, but rather providing pleasures and services for the Master that i love and commit myself to, and that includes cherishing Master’s established relationship with His pup. That would perhaps be what many have referred to as “that moment of relational empathy, loves and pleasures of an individual for emerge for one’s partner with another person”.
Personally, i do think compersion is one of the most loving experiences that i have encountered before, because in that moment of feeling, one is emancipated from the socially constructed norms and rules about the concepts of love. That can be very liberating, and relieving.
feature image by Ali Franco
• The kink-poly confluence: relationship intersectionality in marginalized community, Journal Article written by Pitagora (2016)
• Agreements, rules and agentic fidelity in polyamorous relationships, Journal Article written by Wosick-Correa (2010)
• Autostraddle – Five Lessons From Poly Relationships That Everyone Can Benefit From
• It’snotaboutsex – The Compersion Conundrum
• SlutPHD – Poly Architecture 201: Compersion Is a Threeway Street