Compersion: the Holy Grail of Polyamory?

The elusive feeling we all want

A thought cloud with a castle in front of a rainbow

If you’re researching polyamory one word is repeated in tons of blogs and communities: compersion. And while you may pronounce it similar to comparison, it’s anything but. So what is compersion, do you need it to have a successful polyamorous relationship, and how do you develop it?

What is compersion?

Without boring you with the roots of it, in polyamorous slang the word compersion is used to refer to this feeling of joy one might feel when seeing your partner enjoying themselves with someone else. Although the word is mainly used to refer to seeing your partner with their other partner, one could also feel compersion about your partner having a good time with friends.

Compersion is the opposite of jealousy: ‘yeah, cute’ rather than ‘yeah lousy’.

Do I have to feel compersion?

Many people who try polyamory feel confused: “I’m not feeling compersion! What is wrong? Am I not cut out for polyamory? Should I be feeling compersion?”

Some people believe compersion is the ultimate goal of polyamory: everyone gets along, everyone is happy, and everyone enjoys seeing their partners with other people. But even if you’ve never felt compersion you can still have fulfilling polyamorous relationships.

Don’t worry. While compersion is obviously a great feeling, there’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t feel compersion, or even if you feel jealous. Compersion is fun, it’s not mandatory.

Can compersion be learned/developed?

What if you work long and hard enough? Will you be able to teach yourself to feel compersion? Well… yes, and no.

In essence, compersion is a feeling of abundance. When your needs are met and you believe they will continue being met, you feel like you have ‘partner to spare’. You feel like you have more than enough and the others are welcome to the surplus. This isn’t necessarily related to the quantity or quality of your relationship with your partner. Rather, it’s about the needs you have and how they are met. Someone who only sees their partner once a month, but has an otherwise fulfilling life and feels like their partner treats them well and will continue to do so, might feel compersion. Someone who is overwhelmed or who secretly (or overtly) feels the need for more in their relationship will have a hard time watching their partner give away their time, energy and other resources to others.

What does this mean for you? Well, it certainly won’t help if you push yourself to feel more compersion. More like the opposite: you’ll only get more frustrated about the mismatch between your actual feelings and the feelings you’d like to feel. And unfortunately, frustration doesn’t really help with compersion.

On the other hand, if you don’t feel compersion, you may take it as a sign of either your needs not being met, or you having a fear that they will no longer be. In working through these feelings, you may find ways to meet your needs, giving you more room to feel compersion.
One important note: having your needs met doesn’t always mean a change in your relationship with the partner in question. Maybe you could meet some of the needs with friends, with other partners, or even by yourself.

In my experience, it’s the self-sufficient people who feel compersion most. In that sense, you can certainly work on your feelings of compersion by investing in your relationship with yourself.

Want to work towards compersion?

Use our Polyamory Conversation Cards to get clear on your needs and talk about them with your partner(s)!