What is compersion and can I be polyamorous without it?

It is a recently made-up word that you won’t find in a dictionary. The classiest definition I could find is: Sympathetic Joy

I don’t remember when or where I read first about compersion. But I liked how the word sounded and it made sense to me immediately. I was also surprised that there was not already a word to describe that warm, uplifting feeling that I get when my partner returns all giddy and relaxed from her date, or is excitedly getting ready to go out on one. Compersion is not only applicable to polyamory, and can be experienced with friends, colleagues, family and even with strangers.

When you search for definitions online, there are mostly variations on the theme that compersion is the opposite of jealousy.

This might sound really neat, simple and point at how one might avoid feelings of jealousy by embracing it’s opposite. But this is not how emotions work. Many people actually feel like a failure because they seem incapable of feeling compersion. The fact is, compersion is NOT a requirement for practicing healthy, happy multigamy or polyamory. You should not be expected to feel compersive towards your partner, not should you push any of your partners to express compersion towards you.

If the jealousy is coupled with feeling of shame or guilt that you are not feeling enough compersion, then it only serves to raise anxiety levels and makes it difficult to self-regulate.

I don’t consider it the opposite of jealousy, I think of it as a bonus level of my happiness. When my lover is doing something that makes them happy, i’m happy for them.


Compersion and jealousy aren’t quite opposites. I consider jealousy to be the opposite of security, because our jealousy is felt when we are insecure. When you have self-confidence challenges, fear of abandonment, or of losing control, certain triggers brought about by non-monogamy can manifest as jealous feelings.

Click here to read more about understanding jealousy.

Compersion, on the other hand, can be contrasted with indifference. You could be OK with your partner going on a date, but feel no strong feeling either way about it. That is an acceptable reaction, ie. lack of compersion does not mean you are jealous.

It’s true that if we have intense insecurity, it can be hard to experience strong compersion. Also, if we can develop compersion, it can help reduce some of the anxiety around jealousy. Often, they can both be felt simultaneously – I am happy for you to go have fun, but I am insecure about being alone while you do that.

Compersion is how you feel about your partner, Jealousy is how you feel about yourself.

If it happens, I invite you to notice how you are holding these two emotions inside yourself. Try to communicate this to your partner, for example by saying: “I’m so happy for you right now but also, I am experiencing anxiety/fear around abandonment/rejection which I’m working on.”

Compersion is not something I feel naturally for my partner in the dating area. But I tried to expand my mind by consciously seeing compersion in other areas of his life and for my friends. So to actively make myself familiar with that feeling. It makes me so happy.


How can someone develop compersion if it does not come naturally?

  • It is important to reiterate – it is not needed in order to practice polyamory or any form of non-monogamy.
  • Think about other areas of your partner’s life where you might be happy for them, irrespective of your involvement in their happiness. A promotion at work, playing sports with friends, winning a level in a computer game, getting a good grade, etc. Examine this feeling in yourself, how do you sense it in your body?
  • Do not judge yourself for not feeling it, or for allowing feelings of insecurity to take over when they are with another partner.
  • Ask for reassurance that you might need to feel more secure, while also doing the self-work to improve your own self confidence and self-love.
  • It’s ok to not know all the details about what your partner has been up to. Communicate clearly, what you are fine knowing and what you’d prefer to not hear.
  • Agree on how you will reconnect with a partner after they have spent time with someone else.
  • Take it slow, gradually testing the water by finding out more information, or appreciating how happy they are when they return.
The positive energy that compersion offers can turn forward a cycle of love energy. When and how fast you turn that cycle is up to you. There is no single formula. 

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