Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Compersion: The Key to Healthy, Ethical Non-Monogamy?

There was a time when I looked at ethical non-monogamy and thought that respecting personal freedom was the key to having a "successful" non-monogamous relationship.  I still believe that respecting personal freedom is still a large part of successful ethical non-monogamy.  However, the clients that I have coached who seem the happiest about their non-monogamous relationships are the ones who find joy and sexual arousal in their lovers finding joy in another’s arms.  Compersion offsets jealousy, heals anger, and has the power to enhance sexual between you and your lovers.

 


Jealousy is truly a green-eyed monster, a dark, demonic emotion that can inhabit your and your lovers’ hearts.   When jealous, my clients rip at each other.  Their insecurities swell. They blame.  They play “one-up-man-ship” with each other.  In your mind, jealousy amplifies the possibilities of something going wrong with your non-monogamous relationship and of being left alone.  Fear of loss leads to lies.  Compersion, on the hand, adds spice to the non-monogamous relationship.

A client of mine, I will call him James, was extremely possessive of his wife when they first met.  Thus the transition to non-monogamy was very difficult for him.  He had no role model for non-monogamy.  He had no idea how to "let his wife go".  He thought that his wife wanting another meant that she wanted him less.  He couldn’t understand how his wife could love him and care for another.  The jealously that possessed his heart was a dangerous jealousy.   His emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations reflected the fact that jealousy was a deep part of his state of being at that moment.
 
When we started to work together, James stated that he truly wanted to experience the best of ethical non-monogamy before he decided it was not for him.  In addition, he reinforced the fact that he truly loved his wife.  I was happy to hear both statements because I feel if love and/or compassion are at the center of our non-monogamous experiences, then we have a real opportunity to live an ethical non-monogamous relationship style or at least have an opportunity to honestly assess why non-monogamous is not for us at this point in our lives.  Compersion comes from empathy, love and/or compassion for others, particularly your lovers.

I asked James to do the following the next time they ventured into a swing club:

  • Watch his wife with compassion, love, and empathy 
  • Be aware of the bodily sensations that occurred in himself while watching his wife interact with others, particularly when he felt jealousy affecting his emotions and thoughts
  • Pay attention to the sights and sounds that seemed arousing while his wife interacted with others
  • Reassure himself that his wife loved him
  • Enjoy his freedom himself

After a visit to a swing club with his, James shared with me that he did have some sexually arousing feelings as he watched his wife enjoying a couple’s attention directed towards her.  He felt jealous too.  He felt his chest tighten and his arms tense.  When I asked if his body ever felt like that before, James thought about and responded when he had been in fist fights and loud arguments.  

James also shared with me that he became sexually aroused because he sees his wife as an object of desire when she was with others, which is a feeling he hadn’t felt for a while.  She was now his partner, the mother of his kids, and his friend.  Seeing her as simply a sexual object had fallen away a long time ago.  Seeing her with others made her a sexual object again.  He also became aroused by the freedom she displayed in non-monogamy.  In most places in their lives together, James’ wife had becomes reserved because she feared losing the life they had built up together.  Together they started at the bottom, and they worked hard to obtain the trappings of the American Dream.  Often they made decisions that were safe but quelled their freedom, fun, and creativity.  For James, watching his wife let go in her sexual world really stimulated him; in addition, he realized how much she needed to let go sometimes and just enjoy….  He found that he wanted to be her partner in letting go and wanted to let go himself.

Our six months, James and I worked on him enjoying those sexually arousing feelings and being aware of the coming of jealousy through listening to his body's reactions.  He learned to offset his jealous feeling before they were out of control.  As time progressed.  James became less and less jealous and less angry as well.  He was holding on to anger from his wife even wanting someone else sexually and gaining friends.   Her wants challenged many of the beliefs he held about sex, marriage, and life.  To remain in step, he had to change his way of being and understanding the world.  He was angry about losing who he, they had been together; however, compersion helped him see that they had not given up everything and that they could build new ways of being to share.  He had to use his creativity to imagine and live in a new way, but he found himself excited and less angry each day.

Compersion help us release anger because we can empathize with our lovers more.  Their needs and wants are not signs of our failures.  Compersion also shows us that our needs and wants are not failures of our lovers.  It helps us to accept our lovers’ as well as our own humanity.  For some of us, non-monogamous or not, accepting our humanity lifts a large weight off of our shoulders.   In no way am I suggesting that you should not be angry about anything that has transpired in your relationship, but compersion helps the anger we have subside and change.  It has the ability to increase our sense of self-worth and self-love.

As James gained compersion for his wife (and she for him) their sex life flourished because their time together became more precious.  They were two sexually fulfilled beings who came to bed ready to give as well as receive.  James was very attracted to the extra confidence his wife seemed to have.  Also, he was no longer responsible for her self-image, which was very freeing to him.

They no longer looked to each other to satisfy every aspect of their sexual and emotional needs.  For them, this new found freedom increased their sexual feelings for each other, for they realized that very few other people would share this sexual adventure.  When I myself experienced ethical non-monogamy, I could not see how the sex between my girlfriend and me could improve by having sex with others.  It did improve though.  I think, like James, I observing my girlfriend enjoy sex, instead of being responsible for her enjoyment.  I felt heightened freedom as well.

Will ethical non-monogamy improve everyone’s sex life? No way!  It may have the opposite effect on some.  Ethical non-monogamy actually may be dangerous to relationships' and individuals' well-being.  If you cannot find joy in your lovers’ pleasure with others, you may find yourself angry a lot, jealous a lot.  Prolonged anger and jealousy makes desperate sex, not better sex.  Prolonged anger and jealousy eats away at self-esteem.  As a matter of fact, whether or not you can experience compersion may be the deciding factor in whether you can ever enjoy living a non-monogamous life.  Reveling in your own freedom is easy for many of us.  My clients who taste the freedoms associated with ethical non-monogamy often want more; on the other hand, compersion is an emotion, a skill that many of my clients must practice to utilize in their daily lives.

Of course, there are other factors in having a successful ethical non-monogamous lifestyle, but compersion is a factor that can bring healing to you and your lovers.
 
 
 
Your Servant,
Dr. Nwachi Tafari,
Director of the Consensual Non-Monogamy Community, Inc.

 
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