One thing I quickly learned as we began exploring an open marriage is that the terminology in this lifestyle can be complicated. (Here’s an accurate, but tongue in cheek summary of the lingo.) Open marriage seems simple enough and can even be found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. I also began using the term polyamory until Jeannie pointed out an important nuance in that term. Those in a polyamorous relationship (often referred to as a Triad or a Quad, etc.) are committing long-term to all the members of that relationship. In many cases, they will all live together as well. So Jeannie was right in correcting me as we aren’t truly polyamorous. We have no desire to expand our current living arrangement.
It’s also interesting to note that language geeks hate the word polyamory because of it’s etymology:
There are also lots of somewhat interchangeable terms, each with its own nuance or baggage. One that I’ve come to use is Ethical Non-Monogamy, or ENM. In our case open marriage is more accurate since we are, in fact, married, and ENM is a broader term. So I guess I should stick with open marriage for the most part.
OK – now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, there’s a particular term that I want to address: compersion. This one is so “out there” that it isn’t yet in any mainstream dictionaries. Basically, compersion is the opposite of jealousy. Compersion is when the partners in an open relationship receive joy from the pleasure the other is receiving, even when that pleasure is being delivered by someone else. It’s a very “nice” term, and, honestly, Jeannie and I do generally share this. However, it also feels like an attempt to tie up open relationships with a nice little bow and say there’s nothing messy about them at all.
Open relationships can be messy, sometimes very messy!
Let’s face it, a relationship of two people can be difficult sometimes, so who’s to think that adding others can and should be easy? Also, feelings in general are complicated and rarely binary. Can you imagine a time where you truly felt nothing but joy? Compersion and jealousy are no different and I like this essay on the topic: Compersion is not compulsory. As noted, Jeannie and I do generally feel compersion, but I can definitely say that I also feel jealousy. And this isn’t a bad thing, as long as it’s recognized and communicated effectively. In fact, jealousy can bring intensity into the relationship, but it must be managed. Think of compersion and jealousy like pleasure and pain – there’s a spectrum. And the balancing act can be a big part of the fun.
My managed jealousy in our open marriage has resulted in better sex within our marriage.
Here’s an example, the first time Jeannie participated in a threesome with another couple (What to wear to a threesome) I didn’t have plans that night. As the date approached, I pondered what I’d be doing and knew that I should engage in an activity to distract me from what she was doing for the night. Not that I didn’t want to imagine what she was doing (oh, believe me, I very much wanted to imagine it) but I knew what I’d make up in my mind would be totally fantastical, for better or worse. And I knew that as the night played out, I’d imagine more and more ridiculous things.
Did this bother me? A little bit, yes! Mostly because it didn’t make sense in the context of our new lifestyle. But we discussed this openly and I did go out for the evening while she was on her date. When I arrived home and texted Jeannie only to learn that she decided to spend the night with Jake and Mia, there was most certainly some jealousy. What did they have that I didn’t? (Well, for one thing, they are a man and a woman, and I am only one of those… not to mention the toys and attention they were giving Jeannie!)
In the end, I got to sleep just fine, had explicit dreams about what I was missing, and woke up in anticipation of Jeannie’s return. When she returned, we talked about our evenings and then had some absolutely amazing sex! What’s not to like?!?
Quick side story in the He Said, She Said spirit… Jeannie will tell you that the following “did not happen this way” but here’s what I recall when she got home that morning. I said, “Good Morning! How was it?” Jeannie tossed me her phone and said, “there are pictures… I can’t look, but you enjoy!” She did this basically as I was sitting on the couch and she proceeded into the bedroom to get cleaned up. I opened her photos app and the photos were waiting, in reverse chronology… so the very first one showed Jake’s hard cock resting on Jeannie’s parted lips.
Yep, compersion AND jealousy for sure. And a terrific f*cking as a result!