Compersion. As I write this article, spell check protests every time I use the word. In fact, an attempt to look up the definition demonstrates that Merriam-Webster doesn't even know what I am talking about when I say compersion. If you are a swinger, have an open relationship, or particularly if you are polyamorous, compersion is likely a regular part of your life experience.
In swinger, open, and polyamory circles, compersion is often defined as a person taking pleasure in observing the romantic or sexual pleasure of their partner with another person. Some take the shortcut and say compersion is the opposite of jealousy. While that can be a quick method for describing compersion, it doesn't tell the whole story.
The experience of compersion is a healthy, positive instinct grounded in wanting all things awesome for your partner. Some partners experience compersion by just being incidentally happy for their partners pleasure, which is lovely. Yet, for me as a self-described compersion junkie, it is not always selfless. Others actively encourage their partners to enjoy another expressly so they get that compersion rush. While trying to avoid being too technical, I often think of this distinction as passive compersion and active compersion.
It is highly likely that distinction is ever a necessary one, but Prof and I have put words to it to describe the difference in the way we each experience compersion. In our case, he describes the experience as passive compersion. I describe mine as active compersion. We both take pleasure in each other's pleasure without a doubt, yet during conversations about some experiences acknowledging to one another that we feel compersion differently helps us make clearer decisions about how to proceed in some situations with other partners.
Jealousy in contrast is not a healthy emotional response. Jealousy is not monolithic, but is an umbrella concept for many diverse emotions. What many describe as jealousy, upon further reflection, they will find it is really insecurity, loneliness, resentment, or any number of other uncomfortable emotions. Stopping at jealousy prevents partners from discovering the true emotion they are experiencing and, therefore, prevents a solution.
Often culturally, jealousy equals love. A devastating side effect is that compersion may be interpreted as indifference toward a partner. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite the fact the idea of compersion is counterculture, wanting your partner to have the opportunity to pursue as much pleasure as possible is evidence of a deep connection.
Cultivating compersion in all of your relationships paves the way for every partner to feel whole and valued. Even though ethical non-monogamy can emotionally challenge us in so many ways, communicating about the uncomfortable emotions and getting to the core of each allows opportunities to move closer to the peace and pleasure that comes with compersion.
The introspection and communication skills necessary to grow your experience of compersion all are honed with practice. Do a lot of listening. Own your own emotional responses. Communicate directly and honestly. Say the hard things and say the beautiful things. Allow for missteps. Trust and persist through with love. Patience and practice will cultivate compersion over time. It is a worthy endeavor.