Compersion takes feeling happy for your partner to a whole new level

what is compersion, compersion definition
What does it mean to feel compersion?Pexels/Margie Rischiotto

It’s normal to feel happy for your partner when they’re doing something that brings them joy, like, say, winning a game or finally getting a big promotion at work. Who wouldn’t want to see their significant other happy, right? But feeling psyched that they’re having a great time with someone else…sexually? That’s a different kind of feeling. It’s called compersion, and ICYDK, it goes far beyond not getting jealous when sharing your partner with someone else intimately. It’s when you feel a deep, authentic joy for them, explains AASECT-certified sex therapist Jenni Skyler, PhD, director of The Intimacy Institute.

As far as where it sits on the sexuality spectrum, compersion is often a feeling associated with polyamorous relationships, Skyler explains. But it doesn’t have to be! More generally, it falls under the ethical non-monogamy umbrella. “It’s saying: I am deeply joyful to share my partner with someone else,” Skyler says, even if you’re not present during their sexual encounter. It might even make you feel aroused.

“Whatever sexual experience they’re having is gratifying to you,” says AASECT-certified sex therapist Janet Brito, PhD, founder of the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health. “Not everyone can feel this way when sharing a partner emotionally and sexually with someone else,” Brito says, so if it’s not something that you’ve ever personally felt, don’t stress. (Especially because our society socializes us to prioritize monogamous relationships!) But how do you know if compersion should be on your radar if it’s not a feeling that’s easily accessible to everyone? And is compersion a necessary feeling when it comes to having non-monogamous relationships? Let’s break it down with the help of certified sex experts.

Remind me: what is compersion?

Again, compersion is sort of like the opposite of jealousy when your partner is having a sexual experience with someone else. It’s both gratifying and joyful for you to share them, Brito explains, and sharing them may even make you feel aroused. It’s often associated with non-monogamous (like being in an open relationship or having sex with other couples and people) or polyamorous (having multiple romantic partners at once) relationships, Brito says. But remember: It’s a feeling or emotion, not a type of sexuality, per se.

Can I still be non-monogamous without feeling compersion?

In short, yes! Compersion is a relatively rare feeling, Skyler says, and while sure, feeling it would be ideal, it’s not necessarily the goal, even if you and your partner are participating in a non-monogamous dynamic. Why? Because it’s just not always possible. “Jealousy is a normal emotion too, and humans are fallible,” Skyler explains. Basically, don’t beat yourself up if you want to be non-monogamous and you’re not able to feel compersion at the thought of your partner being with someone else. It’s okay! Jealousy is part of being human, and human relationships are complicated, ya know?

happy friends holding each other

“Some people feel compersion easily and authentically, while others have to work a bit harder toward getting there,” Skyler says. It’s also possible that you’ll never feel compersion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice non-monogamy ethically and with integrity. “There might be other reasons for sharing your partner that aren’t related to the feeling of them being with someone else,” Skyler explains. Think about it: You may share your partner sexually while being long-distance, as a one-time experience to spice up your relationship, as a way to satisfy a fantasy, and more.

How can you work toward feeling compersion?

While you may not be able to fully access compersion for certain, you can try. “Compersion usually arises for people who have done a lot of deep inner work and don’t feel the threat of abandonment, or who don’t feel like they’re unworthy or unlovable,” Skyler explains. So in order to have a better chance of feeling compersion, you’ll likely need to address any long-held beliefs you might have on your own or with a therapist. (Better yet, a therapist who specializes in sex and relationships!)

If what you feel is jealousy instead of compersion, try to use it as an opportunity to tap into that emotion and learn where it’s coming from. Ask yourself, What am I feeling jealous about? Why am I not accessing compersion? Skyler says. It’s possible that you’re feeling unlovable or stressed about the possibility of being left by your partner if they have access to others sexually. In that case, you’ll need to think about healing that wound, talking it through with your partner, and trusting that you’re not going to be abandoned, all of which, again, might be best suited to work through with a professional therapist.

interracial cheerful group of happy girls having fun talking together in the park talking and having fun sitting on a bench in the park
Giuseppe Lombardo

A final reminder: compersion is not required!

“Compersion is not something you can force,” explains Brito. “It’s something that you can feel, and feelings come and go naturally.” If you don’t feel it, you’re not wrong, broken, or “bad” at ethical non-monogamy. It’s not something you need to fix or change if you don’t want to—even if you’re in a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship. “Don’t judge yourself. If you feel it, that’s great. If you don’t, that’s fine,” Brito explains. Compersion isn’t a requirement in any kind of relationship.

People’s ability to feel compersion is more than likely based on a mix of their genetics, lived experiences, and familial upbringing, most of which is out of your control. “It’s multifactorial. It’s also who you’re involved with romantically, where you’re at in life age-wise, and your immediate environment,” Brito says. You can also feel a spectrum of emotions at different times, Skyler says, so the odds that you’d feel straight-up compersion every time your partner is with someone else sexually is unlikely. Moods and emotions change all the time.

TLDR: If you can access compersion or want to learn to access it by doing some inner work, that’s lovely. But if you don’t, it’s fine! There is absolutely nothing wrong with you, and experiencing compersion is not a requirement of a happy and healthy ethically non-monogamous life.

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