In the first part of this series, we discussed differentiating between envy and jealousy, and how it’s possible to view these emotions as opportunities to identify what you may be lacking or desiring in your relationship. This has allowed us to view these emotions constructively as opposed to the critical and shameful way we’ve been conditioned to think about them. Being able to communicate your feelings of envy and jealousy with your partner can also have really great consequences for bringing you closer and heightening feelings of intimacy. Feeling jealous or envious is an obvious sign that a part of you cares very deeply about what is happening around you. Giving your partner the opportunity to help you feel better about these feelings shows great trust. Your partner honoring your feelings in turn shows you how important you and the relationship are to them.
This is only really possible when you can communicate your feelings of jealousy or envy constructively. The reason we do the sometimes, really difficult, exercises of interrogating where our feelings of jealousy or envy come from is to identify how much of those feelings are a projection of our own issues or conditioning that may have nothing to do with our partner or the relationship itself. We also do this self-introspection to identify the need or desires these feelings expose. Wherever you land, this is all in hopes of being better able to accurately communicate with our partners when we decide to open up.
The first thing to consider before you open up is to acknowledge to yourself that being vulnerable is not always easy and does take courage. There is no gain in denying that. If you’re feeling nervous or self-conscious, dare to trust your partner and express it. Say “I’m feeling rather nervous about sharing this because it requires me to be vulnerable, and it can be uncomfortable.”
When you start opening up be sure to center yourself in the conversation. The whole point of this exercise is to be in touch with your feelings and to honor them, so do not be tempted to evade this responsibility to yourself. When you start your sentences with “You”, immediately, you divert the spotlight to your partner. Instead, start the sentence with “I feel” or reference the situation. For example, instead of saying –
“You buy your other partner expensive gifts and you make me feel like I am not as valuable or important as she is”, rather try –
“When I see that she gets more expensive gifts, it makes me feel like I may not be as valuable or important as she is.”
Same message, different focus. Centering yourself during uncomfortable conversations and during conflict resolution is a powerful skill that reduces feelings of defensiveness and allows you to better focus the conversation where necessary.
This is not to say if you feel like your partner is deliberately going out of their way to make you feel jealous, envious or uncomfortable, you can’t call it out! This is just a useful approach to isolate the feelings you can take responsibility for and own for yourself.
This is also the perfect time to bring in some of the insights you have uncovered from your introspection. You will be sharing some things to provide more context to what stirred up your feelings of jealousy or envy, and not necessarily because you are presenting anything at your partner’s feet to resolve for or with you. Perhaps there’s a childhood memory or experience that is informing your response to the situation. Other times, you may be in a position where you need reassurance and there is a part your partner can definitely play. Or perhaps, you now know of a need or desire you weren’t conscious of before, and you would like to give your partner an opportunity to speak to and show up for you in those ways. The more time you give yourself to understand where your feelings of jealousy and envy stem from, the better you will be at engaging your partner. You will be in a better position to express to them exactly what you need from them at that moment.
Compersion can be described as that feeling of joy or empathy you get from seeing someone else being happy. It’s a feeling we get when we see a stranger on our social media sharing the joy of their travels, when a colleague gets a promotion, when your sibling buys their dream car or your best friend finally meets ‘the one’. For some non-monogamous people, they feel compersion when they see their partners enjoying their relationships with other people. So in the context of some of the examples we referenced in this series, seeing your partner give or receive expensive gifts would elicit feelings of joy. You’d feel compersion towards the situation – genuinely being happy to see them being happy.
Framing compersion like this, it’s easy to then think that compersion is the opposite of jealousy or envy. I noticed that this is many people’s go-to when trying to explain compersion, especially people in the non-monogamous community. While I may understand the intuitive temptation to see these two as the opposite of the other, I don’t quite agree. To put jealousy against compersion is to insinuate that when you feel the one, you cannot feel the other, and that one is a good emotion, and the other a bad one. In my experience at least, I think it is possible to be genuinely happy for someone and still have a sore, uncomfortable feeling, wishing it was you in that experience, or perhaps even feeling threatened by the fact that it is not you sharing in that experience. The two feelings can definitely coexist. Again, we see this in non-monogamous relationships and in all types of connections. You can be happy your colleague got that promotion, i.e. feel compersion towards them, and still feel sad and envious that the promotion didn’t come to you. You could even feel threatened that you may be disposable to the organization if they don’t deem your efforts enough for career advancement. This could evoke feelings of jealousy. Similar feelings can be stirred up in our non-monogamous relationships when we watch our partners share experiences with others.
There are many ways to cultivate feelings of compersion and this emotion is also one I like to consider as a muscle that gets stronger over time. My personal go-to when I want to make more room for compersion in my thought process is to remind myself that I don’t expect to be the main or only source of love and joy in a partner’s life. I want to celebrate their effort, luck and fortune in attracting other people, friends, lovers, and strangers who can add to the joy and love that they absolutely deserve. I want to remember the privilege of being invited to be one of the people who can share in those experiences with them, knowing that I too have my unique and special role to play in their life.
The biggest takeaway I hope you get from this series is that all three of the emotions we discussed are as human and as normal as any other, and they can all be opportunities for healthy developments and progressions in our relationships. Don’t judge your feelings. Rather sit with them and figure out what they reveal about what you truly think and desire. One emotion is not more superior than the other. You might navigate life a lot easier, but you are not a ‘better’ person if you never or seldom experience jealousy or envy. Compersion is not ’the ultimate goal’ either – it is also a genuine emotion you can cultivate and grow within you if you approach it authentically while embracing all the other facets of your humanness.
I focus a lot on self and empowering the individual to take ownership and responsibility of their own feelings and reactions, but don’t forget the opportunity to use these vulnerable moments to heighten intimacy and feelings of closeness with your partners. Working through moments of jealousy together, or literally talking each other through what compersion looks and feels like for both of you, can also introduce different approaches and counsel that you may not have uncovered by yourself. I also encourage talking about these feelings with your friends and other people you trust. Whatever you do, don’t allow the illusion of shame for feeling jealous or envious to trap you in a rut over these very natural, human emotions that could in fact open you up to something more beautiful, more intimate, and more authentic on the other side.