Compersion is often called the “opposite of jealousy.” It’s possible to cultivate feelings of compersion.
If you see your partner snuggling up to another person, you might feel jealous. But what if you felt something else: a positive emotion? A feeling of warmth and happiness?
First coined by the Kerista Commune in San Francisco, the word “compersion” is now becoming more popular. Because it’s associated with polyamory, compersion has gained popularity as consensual non-monogamy has become more mainstream.
While compersion is often called the “opposite of jealousy,” it’s possible to feel both compersion and jealousy simultaneously. It’s also possible to cultivate feelings of compersion whether you practice monogamy or not.
Compersion is the positive emotion one feels when one sees their partner involved with another person. It’s often called the “opposite of jealousy.”
Try to imagine a warm feeling you may experience when you see your best friend snuggled up with their spouse. You might think, “Wow. I’m so happy they’re happy. It’s nice to see them being treated well!” Now, try to imagine that you’re feeling that same happy emotion, but for your partner.
Compersion is about deriving joy from seeing another person’s joy. It’s about empathizing with their happiness. If you’ve ever been happy for someone else, you’ve experienced something like compersion.
According to research, such as a 2021 study, anticipated compersion may be linked to greater relationship satisfaction.
What is compersion in polyamory?
Compersion is a commonly used term in polyamorous communities. But polyamory isn’t the only form of consensual non-monogamy.
Other forms of consensual non-monogamy include:
- polygamy (marriage between multiple people)
- open relationships (sexual relationships among multiple people)
- swinging (couples “swapping” sexual partners)
- triads or throuples (three people date one another)
- polyfidelity (all partners in a group agree not to have romantic and sexual relationships outside the established group)
- casual sex (people have non-committed sexual relationships, possibly with multiple sexual partners)
- casual dating (people date multiple people without any commitments)
You might feel compersion in any of the above situations.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that non-monogamous people never feel jealous. As a 2019 study found, consensually non-monogamous people can and do experience jealousy.
Can monogamous people feel compersion?
“Compersion” originated in the polyamorous community. But is compersion exclusive to non-monogamous relationships? Not necessarily, says Joli Hamilton, PhD, a psychologist in Westfield, Massachusetts, who did her doctoral research on jealousy and compersion.
“I have found many monogamous people can identify compersion once they know how to name it,” Hamilton says. Hamilton’s current research looks at how monogamous people experience jealousy and compersion.
How can monogamous people feel compersion if their partners aren’t dating other people?
The same way monogamous people might feel jealous if their partners aren’t dating other people.
Every possible stimulus for jealousy is also an opportunity for compersion. Monogamous people might feel joy at their partners’:
- close friendships
- work wins
- other positive experiences
Can compersion be learned? Hamilton believes so. “Compersion is definitely a learnable feeling,” she says. “One of the reasons people [may find it difficult] to feel compersion is that they don’t learn the word for it while they are young and developing their emotional vocabulary.”
“If you want to ease the sting of jealousy, nurturing feelings of compersion can help,” she suggests. Still, she recommends avoiding perfectionism here: Jealousy is natural, and you’re not bad for feeling jealous or not feeling compersion spontaneously.
Learning the word for compersion is a good first step, Hamilton says.
This might be counterintuitive, but acknowledging jealousy is the first step to nurturing compersion.
As Hamilton notes in a Tedx talk, “Compersion: the Opposite of Jealousy,” jealousy is a healthy and common human emotion. Instead of feeling ashamed of our jealousy and suppressing it, it’s better to acknowledge it and sit with the feeling.
In her research, Hamilton has noticed that people who handle jealousy well tend to acknowledge their jealousy and don’t judge it as a bad feeling. Instead, they normalize the emotion and remember that they can ask for what they need — reassurance, affection, or quality time with their partner.
Practice with nonromantic relationships
Hamilton suggests practicing compersion with nonromantic relationships first. “Our society tends to place a lot of emphasis on jealousy being a romantic behavior. Learning how to feel compersion when a friend or family member is experiencing joy can be an easier entry point,” she says.
A good place to start is to try and notice situations when you feel excited or happy for other people. When you feel that warm feeling when your friend achieves something amazing, that’s compersion.
“You can practice fostering compersion by noticing when those waves of warmth occur and building on them,” Hamilton says. “Just noticing and naming those sensations — ‘hey, that’s compersion!’ — is a step toward inviting more compersion into your life.”
Notice the bodily sensations of compersion
How does it feel, physically, when you’re happy for someone else? When you notice those sensations, it can help to label them as compersion to increase awareness of the concept.
“You might feel warmth in your chest, a relaxed belly, a softness in your neck and shoulders, a tingle in your fingers, or myriad other sensations of pleasure and joy,” Hamilton says. “Knowing your body’s early signals of pleasure and joy can help you tune into those when you are faced with a situation where jealousy and compersion might thrive.”
Let compersion and jealousy coexist
Although compersion is described as the “opposite of jealousy,” you can feel both simultaneously, as one 2021 study shows.
“Compersion does not require you to stop feeling jealous,” Hamilton says. “Much the way you can feel both happy and sad at the same time (we often call this bittersweet), even about the same event, you can feel compersion and jealousy at the same time.”
Jealousy is a natural human emotion — but so is compersion, the feeling of joy you might experience when your partner is in a romantic or intimate relationship with someone else.
Although compersion isn’t a term we hear as often as jealousy, it’s possible to cultivate compersion in our relationships — romantic and nonromantic, monogamous and non-monogamous.
If you’re trying to cultivate compersion, you might benefit from the following resources: