Jealousy and Compersion in Open Marriage


In Showtime’ reality series Polyamory: Married & Dating Kamala Devi, a female protagonist, becomes upset over her fit of jealousy. She thought she was a “queen of poly” but found herself still having ‘the old programming that somehow her [Roxane, Kamala’s girlfriend] love for someone else is gonna take away from my love”.

Jealousy seems to know the trick of coming third in traditional monogamous couples. Likewise it has found a loophole in polyamorous families, getting access also to open marriage.

We know there’s jealousy in us. Maybe your reality has very little to do with it, but we have in this life been jealous of our partners’ infatuations, of their interaction with brothers, moms, sisters, best friends, female friends, boss, soccer match companion, waitress, yoga teacher, book, movie, game, social network.

You probably found yourself in situations when your partner was busy doing something with big enthusiasm – and you were thus ignored? Or maybe it was not a partner but a significant other absorbed in some business and making you fail in drawing his notice – things happened, haven’t they? It is the moment when you get a bitter taste in your mouth that results from a chemical reaction of aggression, resentment and indignation mixing up within you. The taste known to everyone – save for, maybe, Mowgli.

What is the way to deal with jealousy: shall you fight it or become proud of? Evidences in support of both ideas can be found in any bunch of men or women. We have studied the issue to propose our version of the answer:

Infatuation – jealousy - compersion

Necessity as a root of jealousy…

It comes almost obvious that in many languages and cultures the most popular meaning the word ‘love’ implies is possessiveness. The meaning that can be correlated with real experience – when in first relationships, we want to grab and keep the attention of the beloved person once for all and on exclusive basis. And sharing this invaluable attention during the first love affair equals to tearing one’s heart off. How come we speak about sharing? It’s got a long way to the Mount Fuji top!

If you have children, subordinates or at least a dog, you know that sharing can only be observed in a full-fed and kissed-caressed child, a credited employee awarded with salary or a dog that’s been sated with food and given a good walk. Anyone hungry, weak or getting a for-the-first-time-in-the-long-time OK is greedy, voracious and not prone to generosity. The crystal of generosity grows from molecules and atoms of satisfied needs. Including the need for possessing another person.

The crave for possession is impregnated with seeds of jealousy. That come up as soon as the first rain of favorable events – other claimants upon “my precious” – comes falling down.

Do you know the fear of losing something that has come into your possession a very short while ago, or the peril of losing one so challenging to get back for the second time?

If your savings suffices for one car only, losing this car is frightening. If you are rich enough to have ten vehicles, staying without one is no longer a tragedy. With assets that allow buying a hundred of cars there comes a desire to share.

In such a case desire to share is a step up in one’ ascending the ladder of feelings, from jealousy and envy to gratefulness and compersion. But first you need to have your desires quenched - and then deal with your possessiveness. Psychoanalysis tells possessiveness to be satisfied with the help of marriage, promises, trust, loss and bringing back the object of your desire. There are no global guidelines on acts that may result in compersion. But after all, it was just a few years ago that we learnt about this feeling.

Man knew about the range of feelings and emotions thousands of years ago: he was yet Socrates who described basic characters and behavioral types. The ability to compersion as well as to other feelings is embedded in each of us, just like that to creative art of different types; but its germination is a slow process. And this is history that underlies the reason.

A desire to appropriate a partner and yield oneself into his/her ownership was a solid means that helped survive in the jungles of feudalism. Is it relevant today? Probably not, but we continue to foot the bills of our ancestors. Thousands of years of unprotectedness and undeveloped medicine turned sharing a partner with somebody else into a detrimental venture. And today we pick up the tab with inadequateness of our jealousy.

…and love as a bedrock of compersion

Consider a situation:

I feel good, I’m full up, pleased, I need no one, I don’t have any need for other people, thus there’s no jealousy. Does it look like description of a jealous person? It’s not clear since there’s no one to verify the idea. But of course if the desire to possess has bypassed us, jealousy shall follow to do the same.  

Another situation:

I have a partner. We’ve agreed on living together. It’s OK for both of us: we agree in household habits and pecuniary interests. We have a set of rules on having sex: who, where and whom with. We take care of business together. The decision on joint living was grounded on comfort rather than love. Jealousy has been excluded by the contract.

These terms and conditions may be adopted even in open marriage.

These two situations shall hardly aid participants in understanding the sources of jealousy, examine it and find the way of dealing with it.

Only after we let other people come into our life – those who make us zealously fight for their attention and make us want to change our selves - the issue of jealousy occurs. There comes a desire to figure it out whether a partner is a property of mine – or not? And what about me? Am I his/her asset or can I redeem my share?

In this case we see jealousy to be destructive and start searching for variants; and after some hours of googling we come across the concept of “compersion”.

Compersion is a feeling that requires someone you are willing to pay the same attention you do with yourself. If you are imbued with partner's love to another person and instead of suffering feel joy from partner’s infatuations and desires – this is compersion.

Seems like compersion in underlain by love. Only after falling in love we start caring about the other the same way we are concerned with ourselves. And not only because of material values he secures for us. But because this person incites our deep feelings and long-term desires.

Love engenders both jealousy and compersion. Yet jealousy is not an evil twin-brother that compersion-the-sister must kill in mother’s womb. It’s rather that jealousy plays a part of a caterpillar that transforms into a butterfly of compersion.

Jealousy: is there a prescription for treatment?

The article is not a prescription. And no treatment is advised unless diagnosis is made.

In any way we consider jealousy to be a cause for intensifying communication with your partner. Jealousy is a motivation to have the same comprehensive understanding of your mate as you have of yourself. Maybe he/she is afraid to lose you, fears being left alone, has lost the feeling of common long-term interests and searches for his part in them. Or maybe jealousy is a sign that tells he wants to play a role in your life that differs from the one he actually does? In any case jealousy is a cry for help, a request for conciliatory gesture, a step to a dialogue.

Jealousy may come to any relations: open marriage, swing-lifestyle, polyamory, monogamy, monogamish. After it pays its visit, open relationships may turn into close or end in breakup. Knowledge, dialogue between partners and candor are the ingredients that help us get ourselves out of the jealousy swamp.

It’s been a year that we write about compersion (from the first day we heard this term) and we have another article telling about it and jealousy: The Anti-Jealousy Drug: Compersion.

Original picture is taken from flickr: