Managing Jealousy and Feeling… | Counseling | Therapy

Managing Jealousy and Feeling Compersion in Non-Monogamous Relationships

Sid Treaster , LCSW, MED — Associate therapist


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Managing Jealousy and Feeling Compersion in Non-Monogamous Relationships image

Non-monogamous relationships offer individuals the opportunity to explore love, intimacy, and connection in ways that diverge from traditional monogamous norms. If you have recently opened up your monogamous relationship to include other sexual and/or romantic relationships, you may notice some difficult emotions coming up. A non-monogamous relationship can come with feelings of joy, freedom, abundance, and compersion, but it can also come with the potential for complex emotions to arise, such as jealousy and uncertainty. Experiencing all of these emotions is perfectly normal, even if it might feel as if they’re in conflict. What is crucial for maintaining healthy and fulfilling relationships in non-monogamous contexts is effectively understanding and navigating these emotions.

Understanding Jealousy:

Jealousy is a natural and universal emotion experienced in various types of relationships, including non-monogamous ones. It often stems from feelings of insecurity, fear of loss, or comparison. In non-monogamous dynamics, jealousy can be triggered by factors such as perceived threats to your connection with a partner, fear of inadequacy, or concerns about fairness and equality. It's important to acknowledge and accept feelings of jealousy without judgment, as denying or suppressing them can lead to resentment and relationship conflict. It’s also important to remember that feelings carry a great deal of information, and it’s worth exploring the root causes of jealousy to rule out any presence of relationship abuse or manipulation.

Understanding Compersion:

Compersion is the feeling of joy or happiness when your partner experiences fulfillment with another person. Many consider it to be the opposite or absence of jealousy, but it is a separate emotional experience. Compersion is an empathic state of emotional fulfillment that arises from witnessing or knowing about the happiness and fulfillment of your partner in a romantic or intimate relationship with another. It involves feeling genuinely happy for your partner's experiences, connections, and personal growth, even when those experiences involve someone other than yourself. Unlike jealousy, compersion is rooted in empathy, generosity, and a secure attachment to your partner. Feeling compersion often comes with a shift in perspective from viewing other relationships as threats to seeing them as opportunities for growth, connection, and mutual fulfillment. If you’re wondering if you’ve ever felt compersion, or how anyone could possibly feel this way, consider the following key characteristics that allow this feeling to arise:

  • Empathy: Compersion is rooted in empathy and the ability to emotionally connect with your partner's experiences and feelings. It involves putting yourself in your partner's shoes and genuinely sharing in their joy and happiness.

  • Generosity: Compersion often involves feelings of generosity and goodwill towards your partner. You may feel a sense of abundance and willingness to support and nurture their connections with others, even if it means sacrificing some of your own desires or needs temporarily.

  • Emotional Security: Compersion typically arises in relationships where there is a strong foundation of trust, communication, and emotional security. Feeling secure in the relationship and confident in your partner's love and commitment is essential for experiencing compersion.

  • Non-Attachment: Feeling compersion is often associated with a non-attachment to outcomes and possessiveness in relationships. It involves letting go of possessive tendencies and embracing the idea that love and happiness are not finite resources, but can be shared and multiplied. Rather than having a scarcity mindset around love and partnership, consider an abundance mindset instead.

What is an Abundance Mindset?

An abundance mindset is a belief system rooted in the idea that there are plentiful opportunities, resources, and possibilities available in life and relationships. Using an abundance mindset to approach relationships involves a sense of optimism and generosity. The key concept is that love, happiness, and fulfillment are not finite resources but rather abundant and limitless in capacity. Consider a few different non-romantic friendships you might have. You may love and appreciate these friends in similar or different ways, and each one may add something unique to your life. If you make a new friend, it is unlikely that your feelings towards them will take away from your love and appreciation for your other friends; you are merely expanding your feelings to include this new person.

In contrast, a scarcity mindset is a belief system characterized by the perception of limited opportunities, resources, and possibilities in life and relationships. A scarcity mindset approaches relationships from a place of fear, insecurity, and competition. The belief here is that love, happiness, and fulfillment are scarce commodities that must be hoarded or fought for. In this framework, relationships are seen as competitive, where one person's gain is another's loss. A partner's connections or achievements might be seen as threatening competition rather than as an opportunity for collaboration or mutual fulfillment.

Cultivating an abundance mindset can lead to more fulfilling, resilient, and harmonious relationships, as individuals embrace the abundance of love, connection, and possibilities available to them.

How Compersion Can Show Up in Your Relationship:

One of the most evident ways compersion manifests is through feelings of joy and happiness when witnessing your partner's happiness and fulfillment with another person. You may feel a sense of warmth, excitement, or elation knowing that your partner is experiencing joy.

    Compersion often leads to supportive and encouraging behavior towards your partner's other relationships. You may actively cheer them on, celebrate their milestones, and offer emotional support during challenging times.

      Feeling compersion can create a deep emotional connection and resonance with your partner's experiences. You may feel a sense of closeness and intimacy as you share in their joys and triumphs, even if you're not directly involved.

        Additionally, finding compersion can cultivate feelings of gratitude and appreciation for your partner and the relationship you share. Witnessing your partner's happiness may reinforce your appreciation for their presence in your life and the depth of your connection.

          Finding and feeling compersion can contribute to your own sense of fulfillment and enrichment within the relationship. Sharing in your partner's joy can enhance your own happiness and satisfaction, strengthening the bond between you.

          Okay, that all sounds great, but what about the jealous feelings in relationships, you might be wondering? How can someone feel compersion if they’re busy managing jealousy? Well, the two can, and do, coexist.

          Coexistence of Jealousy and Compersion:

          While jealousy and compersion are often viewed as opposing emotions, they can actually coexist within individuals and relationships. It's entirely possible, and normal, for someone to feel compersion for their partner's happiness while also experiencing jealousy triggered by their own insecurities or fears. Recognizing the coexistence of these emotions is the first step towards effectively managing them.

          Managing Jealousy:

          Addressing jealousy in non-monogamous relationships requires open communication, self-awareness, and relational skills. Individuals experiencing jealousy can take several steps to constructively manage their emotions:

          • Acknowledge and accept feelings of jealousy without judgment.

          • Ask the question, “what is the jealousy telling me?” Try to identify the root causes and triggers of jealousy, such as insecurity, fear of abandonment, or any safety concerns.

          • Communicate openly and honestly with partners about your feelings and needs.

          • Establish clear boundaries and agreements that honor the needs of all parties involved.

          • Practice self-care and self-compassion to nurture emotional well-being.

          • Challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs that fuel jealousy through cognitive restructuring.

          • Seek support from friends, family, or therapists experienced in non-monogamous relationships.

          • Cultivate trust, intimacy, and connection within the relationship to reduce jealousy and promote security.

          In the journey of exploring and navigating non-monogamous relationships, therapy can also serve as a valuable resource for individuals seeking to understand and address complex emotions such as jealousy and compersion.

          Addressing Jealousy and Strengthening Relationships in Therapy:

          As a therapist, I attempt to provide a neutral space for both partners to explore their emotions, communication patterns, and relationship dynamics. In therapy, my clients are guided through a process of identifying, understanding, and addressing jealousy constructively. In session, I will work collaboratively with you to explore the underlying triggers and beliefs that contribute to jealousy, offering tools and strategies for managing these emotions effectively. Through techniques such as cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, communication skills training, and emotional regulation, you can learn to navigate jealousy with greater resilience and cultivate compersion as an alternative response.

          Therapy serves as a catalyst for strengthening relationships by providing clients with the tools and insights needed to navigate challenges and foster deeper connections with their partners. In our therapy sessions, you have the opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself and your partners, explore feelings, needs, and desires openly and honestly, and develop effective communication skills. By creating a supportive and nonjudgmental space for exploration and growth, I, as a therapist, hope to empower clients to set goals, establish healthy boundaries, and cultivate resilience within their relationships.


          Let’s use cognitive restructuring as an example of what kinds of questions to expect in session when addressing jealousy and compersion. You can also ask yourself these questions on your own and write down your answers and reflections in a journal at home.

          Identify the Situation: Begin by identifying a specific situation that triggers your negative emotions, such as jealousy. Describe the situation in detail, including what happened, who was involved, and how you felt. Try rating the intensity of your emotions associated with the original negative thoughts on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 represents no emotion and 100 represents extreme emotion.

          Identify Negative Thoughts: What are the negative thoughts and beliefs that you find yourself thinking when feelings of jealousy arise? What assumptions about your partner's intentions are you making? Are there any fears of abandonment or inadequacy?

          Challenging Negative Thoughts: What evidence for and against the negative thoughts and beliefs do you have? Are these thoughts accurate and valid? What would someone else say about this situation? Am I assuming the worst-case scenario? Is there a more balanced or realistic way to interpret this situation?

          Generating Alternative Thoughts: What are some alternative explanations for your partner's behavior or intentions? Use objective evidence, past experiences, or more realistic assessments of the situation.

          Reinforcement and Practice: What are some ways that you can practice these new thoughts and beliefs outside of the therapy session? Can you keep a thought diary to track and challenge any jealousy-inducing thoughts? What would talking through your jealousy with your partner look like instead of holding it in?

          Reevaluate Thoughts and Emotions: After generating some alternative thoughts, reevaluate your emotions in response to the situation. Then consider whether your emotions have shifted in response to the new thoughts and interpretations. Re-rate the intensity of your emotions on the same scale to assess any changes in emotional intensity.

          Addressing Core Beliefs: In some cases, jealousy may be rooted in deeper core beliefs about oneself, relationships, or trust. It will be important to explore and understand the underlying emotions, triggers, and relationship dynamics contributing to jealousy (and compersion). Using what is called an Emotion-Focused Therapy framework, you can explore what the root emotion is, deep underneath your feelings of jealousy and discomfort. Are you feeling insecure? Are you comparing yourself to someone/something else? What needs might not be getting met in your relationship? What are your values and beliefs in regard to relationships? Where did you learn these beliefs? What does reassurance look like from your partner? What do you want it to look like? How can you ask for reassurance from your partner in times of emotional distress?

          Reflect and Summarize: Finally, take some time to reflect on the activity. Can you summarize any insights gained and identify strategies for applying these new thoughts and interpretations to similar situations in the future?

          Other topics and activities to expect in a therapy session might include:

          • Developing effective communication skills, boundary-setting strategies, and coping mechanisms for managing jealousy and feeling compersion.

          • Cultivating compersion through empathy, gratitude, and generosity towards one's partner's experiences.

          • Building trust, intimacy, and connection within the relationship to reduce jealousy and promote security.

          Finding a Therapist Knowledgeable in Non-Monogamy

          Partners facing disparities in emotional experiences can benefit from seeking support from a therapist knowledgeable in consensually non-monogamous relationships. It will be important to ask specific questions to gauge their expertise and approach. You can ask about their experience working with consensually non-monogamous clients, and how they address common issues such as managing jealousy, communication, and boundary-setting in these contexts. What are their beliefs around non-monogamy? Knowing if they have received specialized training or certification in the area or a related area is also beneficial. Some therapists will even disclose that they personally practice a form of consensual and ethical non-monogamy and thus have first-hand experience navigating it.

          In conclusion, any partner in any kind of relationship may struggle with feelings of jealousy or insecurity. It's essential to address these emotions constructively, rather than allowing them to fester and create resentment within the relationship. Therapy can offer tools and strategies for building trust, managing jealousy and feeling compersion over time.

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