Years ago, when my decade long marriage opened up, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The first time I went on a date with another man my husband had a very strong reaction - a reaction neither of us expected after talking about and planning this step for months.
I got home from the date and my husband was jealous and anxious. He asked for details, and when he heard there were sexual elements, he was even more upset. He went through waves of emotion, and I tried to be supportive without getting defensive. Eventually he started asking more detailed questions about the sexual contact: He asked what the man’s cock had felt like in my hand, about my reaction when he’d pulled my hair, and more. He began to transform the jealousy into arousal, and in some sort of possessive rite of reclaiming, we had some of the hottest sex we’d had in years.
We were in the early stages of an open relationship and we were already experiencing one of the things polyamorous folks will tell you about— that you bring the energy of new relationships, sexual and otherwise, into your connections with existing partners.
For us this was a big step, big enough that we had to pause for a while before diving in again. It would be a while before we reached the holy grail of polyamorous relationships: compersion.
Compersion comes up in every book written on open relationships and on every blog about non-monogamy. When I put out the call on social media for people’s input on the topic - as I do on most topics I write about - I got the biggest response I’ve seen yet.
There’s no simple answer. The response from SJC explained, “Compersion, for me, represents the abandonment of the paradigm in which the pursuit of pleasure and joy is a zero sum game; that one’s gain must always come at another’s expense. It is appreciation of a partner’s fulfillment… and recognition that at it best compounds your capacity to enjoy each other and even at its worst, does nothing to diminish it.”
A poetic answer from Marco of thefeelingismultiplied.com was, “Compersion to me is like the instinct of smiling when you see someone else's smile.”
Smiling together, or being happy when your partner is happy, sounds like something we can all get on board with, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy in practice. What about when your partner’s happiness comes from a relationship with someone else, or from sex with someone else? There’s a lot of societal baggage to sort through and even the best of people still struggle with feelings of jealousy, envy, or fear of loss.
SJC further explains, “[W]e are not conditioned to deal with relationship dynamics of this sort. I still get hit with gut reactions that simply don’t fit with my values or who I want to be on the whole. What really helps is to simply sit and think it through. If I can logically chase down what experiences or sentiments are causing me to react negatively, 99% of the time I find that my reaction is grounded in some assumption that has no foundation (‘she doesn’t need me’ or ‘I don’t make her happy’) or some conditioned response that I need to let go of (possessiveness or jealousy, eg).”
These relationship structures are not for the faint of heart, as they force you to address your own fears and insecurities. But if you’re willing to take the time to figure out where the uncomfortable feelings are coming from, you can work towards not only a healthy relationship, but personal growth.
One of the strongest impulses we must fight against to feel compersion is the idea that we are supposed to be our partners’ everything. With lines in romantic movies like “you complete me” we’re taught to feel like less than whole until we find our one and only - our soul mate.
Open relationships fly in the face of all of this, and challenge us to understand that we are all whole, and that we can enjoy different people, in different ways, and that all of those connections can be important and unique.
Sienna Saint-Cyr sums it up nicely, “Falling in love is one of the best highs there is, it tends to give people hope and makes them feel good. So if you love someone truly, why would you want that person to only fall in love once? When the people I love feel good, so do I.”
Stella Harris is an author, educator, and coach who focuses on sex, kink, and intimacy. Through her writing and teaching she explores the complex world of love and lust and strives to help people explore their sexuality safely and free of shame. You can learn more about Stella on her website, www.stellaharris.net or follow her on Twitter @stellaerotica.
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