Today, let’s talk about a concept that is familiar to almost everyone, but which didn’t have a name until we started talking about open relationships.
You know that feeling you have when something good happens to someone you like, and you’re happy for them, even though it doesn’t necessarily have any direct effect on you? In broad terms, that’s empathy, right? It’s just a basic part of sharing emotional life with people. But sometimes we want to be able to talk about that specific moment, without having to explain the nuances of how we get there. Luckily, there’s a name for that feeling! You ready for it? The feeling of happiness triggered by joy in another’s life is called compersion!
[A side note: Carlos enjoys using the construction ‘co-joy,’ because it makes a clear reference to the concept’s origin as the opposite of co-misery. We all recognize the act of commiserating, so why not its opposite, cojoying? Rose finds that a little too neologism-ish, and prefers to use the more widely-accepted “compersion.”]
When we talk to people about relationships, talking about compersion is often my favorite part. Who doesn’t like to talk about the good stuff, right? People are often so concerned about the potential negative impacts of changing the way that they think about relationships that they overlook the potential positives. Talking about compersion is a nice way to remind people that they started out in their relationship from a place of sharing happiness with one another, and that sharing should still be a goal as changes are undertaken.
On that note, here’s something Carlos wrote about the role of compersion in our daily life:
Compersion is the child of a healthy relationship. Compersion is finding joy in the joy of others. When your relationship is happy it is very easy to find joy in the things that your partner likes. But when your relationship, or mental health, hits the skids it is much harder to feel joy in any context.
In the darkest times strong relationships reach for that little bit of light or ground that can be shared. For me and Rose that is our baby. We have both had days where we get to be with him all day and days where we are out working through some his cool milestones. We both have great love for our little jerk, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have those twinges when we miss a moment. Joy-sharing means letting that twinge go and focusing on that light in your partner’s eyes and the energy in their voice when they describe something that you may wish was your story.
Just because you feel jealous doesn’t mean you can’t share your partner’s joy. Even on the hardest days of postpartum depression and posttraumatic stress disorder our little jerk serves as our common light that we get to share. There have been some days that the moment where we share the story of what RJ did on our day is the only moment of smiling or laughing. In my model for compersion, if Rose gets to share the story and have an extra laugh that is important to me.
That moment is an amazing barometer for how you feel about a person. If the other member of your relationship is sharing joy about something that you don’t care about and you don’t feel anything, you should ask why. It is very easy to share someone’s joy when you are imagining yourself there with them; it is harder when you didn’t want to be there in the first place.
Compersion is more about the relationship you are sharing than about the action you are talking about. When you really care about someone it is easier to be in that moment of the telling to share their emotion. This is where the child metaphor comes back: compersion is that piece of ground that you share in the ocean of things that are happening. It isn’t you or your partner; it is something that exists because of your overlap, and it lives and changes day-to-day. If you don’t overlap you can’t make that moment happen.
Compersion, like many habits, works best when we make it a regular practice. Give it a try one of these days! Make a habit of being happy about the things that make your partner happy.