My Contentious Relationship with Compersion

M

Compersion is an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy. In the context of polyamorous relationships, it describes positive feelings experienced by an individual when their intimate partner is enjoying another relationship.

Feeling all warm and gooey because your spouse had a great time banging someone else is not something we’re socialized to feel. We can be thrilled for our partner if they get a raise or promotion or receive some kind of unexpected windfall, but why can’t we be happy for our partners who find joy in bed with someone else?

A couple of months ago I was digging into the archives of one of my favorite blogs, Girl on the Net, when I came across a post called Teach me how to feel compersion. Compersion was a new word to me, I’d never heard it before. She described it as “compersion is how they feel when a loved one is with (fucking, loving, hanging out with) someone else who makes them happy.” Basically, when your partner is with someone else who they enjoy, you get feelings of joy. A better definition comes from Wikipedia:

Compersion is an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy. In the context of polyamorous relationships, it describes positive feelings experienced by an individual when their intimate partner is enjoying another relationship.

Compersion was coined and made popular by the polyamory community.  And while The Wife and I are not polyamorous (or nonmonogamous in any way really), the idea has stuck with me for months, as a try to wrap my mind around it. The reason it’s stuck with me is simple: my default response to what brings others the feeling of compersion is jealousy. If The Wife were to take another lover, my default response would be one of anger, hurt, betrayal, jealousy, etc. You know, the bad feelings.

But that’s not what others describing their experience with compersion were feeling. Those same things that trigger bad feelings for me made them feel good. Why? I wondered and wondered. Could they love their partners more than I? Were they simply better at managing the bad feelings? Did they not feel entitled to or desire monogamy from their partner? Were they mirroring the feelings of when they themselves take another lover?

I’ll admit I thought about compersion constantly for months. I struggled. I felt inadequate, or less than my best self, for not being able to understand, appreciate, and replicate those compersion feelings. I daydreamed about The Wife enjoying things that I know make her happy and I felt happiness. But when it came to her enjoying interactions with potential sexual partners, regardless of how far things went (in my mind), I did not feel that same happiness. I felt unease.

I talked to The Wife about compersion she was intrigued as well. Instantly she described that this is how she’s almost always felt about me. She doesn’t feel entitled to all of my time or attention, and she’s happiest (and says I’m the best version of myself) when I’m happy. She believes that even if that joy came in the arms of another woman, she’d be happy.

This only made things more difficult for me. It started to seem like some higher level of existence that I was not privy to. After a couple of months of struggling, I decided that maybe people are just prone to compersion or jealousy. Maybe it is something inherent, not something you can intellectualize your way into or out of. After about 4 months of pondering on compersion, I decided to give it up.

“I’m giving up the idea of trying to feel compersion,” I tell my wife. “I can’t think my way through it, and at this point it’s causing me more stress than it’s worth, especially considering it’s an intellectual exercise and we’re not even considering non-monogamy.”

I wasn’t pleased with myself for giving up on compersion, but I felt ease. A burden lifted.

Then something strange happened.

I was having a conversation with a female friend and she described how much she appreciates freedom and dating casually. Any time she wants to indulge in an adventure or experience she doesn’t have to consider how that might affect a partner. If she wants to engage in a casual sexual experience with the lead guitarist at a show she goes to, she only has to answer to herself. She asked The Wife “Wouldn’t you like to have an adventure without having to worry about all the responsibilities of life?” “Hell yes”, The Wife replied, “I’d like to have an adventure of any sort.”

That conversation stuck with me for a while. I started thinking about The Wife’s experience of life, the fact that we got together as teenagers and have been with only each other for our entire lives, the things we’ve given up to be with each other, the fact that she hasn’t even kissed another man, and all that jazz.  While I don’t necessarily want her to do those things with other people, I realized that if she wants to have an experience of that nature, I don’t want her to live out her entire life never getting the chance out of loyalty to me.

So then I wondered how far it could go. I’m already happy when she goes out with coworkers/girlfriends (though those tend to be all females or group endeavors). Could I be ok with her going out with a male friend one-on-one (something she does from time to time, but rarely with a friend who doesn’t know me)? Could I be ok with her flirting with another man at a social event? How about going out for a drink with someone after one of her professional conferences? What if they danced? What if she felt him against her? What if he kissed her? What if she kissed back? You can guess where my mind took me from there.

What was interesting is that this time I saw the whole thing in a different light. Not from the egotistical view of my experience of it all, but the empathetic view of hers.  There’s so much she hasn’t experienced because of my preferences and expectations. Would it really be so bad if she indulged in some of those experiences every now and again?

Then, of course, I took it to extremes. How far would things have to go before I would not be happy for her, or where my insecurities/jealousies would overtake my feelings of joy for her happiness? 

My first instinct was probably evolutionary. I thought sexual intercourse is where the line must be drawn. The purpose is simple; paternity. If she has other sexual partners while she’s capable of being impregnated, paternity would be called into question, and that would complicate the life we’ve built together beyond the worth of the experience.

Anything less than that I could probably wrap my mind around. Not that I wanted her to go out and mess around with someone else, necessarily (I’m not into hotwifing or cuckolding), but that I wanted her to enjoy her life on her terms, and I was comfortable with the inevitable discomfort that could arise when what I wanted and what she wanted didn’t align.

I was starting to feel it. Compersion. That mystery feeling. By putting myself in her shoes and not feeling entitled to control her, her sexuality, or how she spends her time, I realized there was space for her to enjoy the company of other people. Not only was it not a threat to me, but it didn’t inherently indicate any shortcomings on my part as her partner. Nor did I really believe that any experience she had with anyone else would disrupt the life we have together.

I discussed my new found feelings with The Wife. I think she was surprised, maybe even impressed. Again, just as an intellectual endeavor, I described to her my thought process and the logical line I had come up with regarding sexual intercourse. I asked her if I were to have a similar experience, would she draw the same line? Her response cracked me up.

“I think I’d draw the line at oral sex, because if a woman gives you a blowjob and then wants to have sex with you, you owe her some satisfaction” she said.

How sweet of The Wife, looking out for this hypothetical woman’s satisfaction. I’m pretty sure she’s thinking about herself, not some hypothetical woman…

While we haven’t made any plans to open our relationship up or anything like that, she did clearly indicate that if I was interested in having an experience of that sort, she’d be totally cool with it, and didn’t want/need to know details. I told her that I’m not trying to go down that road just yet (for either of us), but that if/when she decided she wanted to, I’d be open to discussing.

All in all, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far.  And I believe that compersion can make our relationship even better. I’m excited about the prospect.

About the author

The Husband

By day he's a prominent healthcare professional, but by night he shows his true self; a sex-obsessed husband with a knack for blogging. His musings include sex aids and relationship enhancements, exploring sex-related ideas and fantasies, and writing erotic short stories.

Add comment