Monday, April 12, 2021

14. Compersion Is Caring

The number one question I get asked by couples entering into equatable negotiations of ethical non-
monogamy and compassionate compromises is, “What do I do with my jealousy? How do I not feel insecure and afraid when my partner is having fun with someone else?”  Fortunately, there are several tools to help with easing fear and increasing confidence in these situations.   Many of them have already been discussed in Lessons 33, 27, and 21.

Although the term “compersion” was coined in the Bay Area around 1991, I had never heard of it until I opened my psychotherapy practice in New York City in late 2010.  It was explained to me by a couple I was working with as “the opposite of jealousy.”  I found that to be a very interesting concept, but only definitive in that it is the opposite of something, not affirmatively what it actually means.  So I turned to a friend at Open Love NYC who explained to me that compersion has complicated facets, but when it comes down to it, it is fundamentally “joy in someone else’s joy.” 

Now THAT rang very familiar to me.  After all, so many of the ideas I had learned in A Course Of Miracles over the previous seven years also encapsulated the concept of human ascension through interconnectivity.  As discussed in Lesson 43:   In the spirit world there is no separation -- there is just infinite loving energy.  There are no bodies, no vessels, no “others”, just abundance.  We are living on this thing called “earth” in separate vessels called “bodies” that give us the illusion that we are distinct from one another. In the Spirit world we recognize all living things contain the energy of God.  Perceiving the God that is in other beings strengthens the God [joy] that is in you. 

Anytime we replace a fearful thought with a loving thought we are creating “miracles.”  And so when we perceive the God in ourselves, and by extension the God in each other, we paradoxically experience the reality that there is no “self,” and there is no “other.”  It is in this discernment that we find moments of love, peace, and true connection.  It is in this zone that we can begin to consider the possibility of feeling joy in another person’s pleasure, even when we are not the direct source of it.

I know.  I know.  Most people who read this will think, “That’s just way too out there for me.”  I get it. 

But I also understand there are fundamental barriers to considering compersion as a viable relationship state.  It is neither an accident nor coincidence that this practice is so vehemently resisted in the United States.  I believe we are fighting an uphill battle here for the following reasons: 

(1) Capitalism instructs us to live in a perpetual state of scarcity.  We are constantly told there is not enough love, attention, affection, to go around in the world, like money.  Some people have more, some people have less. So you’d better hoard and protect what you can get and fight anyone who tries to “take” it from you.   Compersion runs contrary to this.  It’s says that there is abundance in the world, that there is enough loving energy to go around, and by sharing in a partner’s love and joy you are actually increasing more love and joy to go around for yourself and for others. 

(2) Trauma / Abandonment Issues.  Many people do not grow up experiencing an abundant love from parents or family.  They may have survived experiences as children where loving attention had to be “won” through competition, affection was scarce.  If parents or caretakers aren’t physically or emotionally available, kids may grow into adults who are terrified of abandonment, panicked by change, and truly traumatized by the prospect of a romantic partner enjoying any friendship or intimacy with another person.  Of course, this fear could be quite problematic in any relationship form, and often leads to the “coerced” monogamy that typically doesn't work out so well either.  Sadly, early trauma and wounding can sometimes shuts down the ability to rationally consider or discuss ethical non-monogamy in adult relationships if it's not addressed. 

(3) Societal Pressures and “shoulds”:  There often remains an incredible shame against people who practice ethical non-monogamy in their relationships in the United States.  Although I have seen this change among younger couples over the last ten years, most of them have received some form of stigma or rejection from their families when they have come out about being in an ethically non-monogamous arrangement.  Shaming people for loving other people doesn’t change their feelings or behaviors, it just makes them hide it.  When that happens it is truly a loss since the only way this will ever truly change is for people to come out and normalize the practice of ethical non-monogamy.  When we don’t have role models or examples, it makes compersion all the more abstract and difficult to embrace. 

(4) Insecurity / self-doubt.  I can say this from experience: There is nothing more triggering of insecurity than having a primary partner wave goodbye on a Saturday night as they eagerly go to meet their date.  I am well aware that any fears or self doubts that might be a “2” or “3” on the insecurity knob will get turned up to “11”.  This is a very common experience.  But I found there was also an opportunity here.  Instead of blaming other people for how I feel, I decided to get out my journal and write down my fearful thoughts.  They went something like, “Am I too old, is my hair too grey, am I bad lover, am I boring…”  and onward.  I was grateful to address these fears because I wasn’t fully aware I was having them.  But once I could bring them into the light, write them down on paper, then I could lovingly and rationally replace them. “No, you’re never too old.  There is no universal consensus on sexy. Some guys want you, some don’t.  You’re not boring but you’re no match for the thrill or New Relationship Energy and never can be.”  Changing these fears and doubts has helped me even when I’m not in a primary relationship, and subsequently helped me to experience joy in my other partners’ pleasures. 

(5) Language.  Instead of talking about sharing sacred spiritual sexual experiences consensually with multiple partners, instead of respecting the biological, pleasurable, and historical limitatations of coerced monogamy, Americans continue to perpetuate a vocabulary that stigmatizes and shames human desire.  Words like “adultery”, “betrayal,” “cheated”, “infidelity” were invented to reinforce conflicts between people - and to make us therapists a hell of a lot of money.  I prefer to use terms “integrity” or “trust” that encourages open discussion of values, decisions, intentions, and actions. But for the time being we are stuck living in a society with a billion dollar industry that promotes language intended to make you feel like a victim if your partner enjoys pleasure with another person, which is the polar opposite of what compersion is all about.

With all these barriers in operation, it makes sense that a lot of people would dismiss compersion as an impossible dream, an unlikely possibility, an ideal that can’t be real.  But I also then remind people this is not an “all-or-nothing” prospect.  Compersion will plausibly be an incremental process for all who embrace it.  There will likely always be kernels of fear and insecurity attached to ethical non-monogamy, it’s what we do with them that makes or breaks relationships.  Do we double-down on fear, blame other people, and try to coerce a partner into a 50+ year monogamous union?  Or do we expand our consciousness, investigate our core beliefs, and seek to create meaningful and loving connections throughout the lifespan?  

I have come to understand in my 50 years that most of what I feel derives from what I'm thinking, love and friendship can be abundant, aligning with Spirit can be joyful.  Therein lies the mind-body-spirit connection that makes growing older and connecting with others so very powerful, pleasurable, and playful.  

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707.

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