A new psychological test measures the feeling of satisfaction or pleasure one gains from knowing or imagining that their romantic partner is emotionally or sexually involved with another person — a phenomenon known as compersion. The development and validation of the new assessment is outlined in a study recently published in Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Compersion, which is sometimes referred to as the opposite of jealousy, is a well-known term among those who practice consensual non-monogamy, which refers to any romantic relationship where people consensually form non-exclusive romantic partnerships. But until now, there has been no standardized assessment of compersion, preventing researchers from delving deeper into the phenomenon.
“Compersion, or the positive emotion one may experience in response to their partner loving and/or being intimately involved with another partner, is a fascinating topic because, in our mononormative society, most people believe that the ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ reaction to one’s partner engaging intimately with another is jealousy,” explained study author Sharon M. Flicker, an assistant professor of psychology at California State University at Sacramento and director of the Relationships Lab.
“The experience of compersion flies in the face of that assumption. Additionally, there could be some important applications to what we learn about the factors that facilitate compersion: it could lead to effective interventions for both monogamous and consensually non-monogamous relationships.”
In the study, 44 English-speaking adults who had been involved in at least one consensually non-monogamous relationship within the past 12 months were asked open-ended questions about the experience of compersion. The researchers then conducted a thematic analysis of the responses and used their findings to develop a scientific survey, which they named the Classifying Our Metamour/Partner Emotional Response Scale (COMPERSe).
To ensure that the new scale was measuring a valid concept, Flicker and her colleagues tested it against other psychological assessments of jealousy, empathy, emotion contagion, and relationship satisfaction in a second study with 630 participants. A factor analysis of the survey items confirmed that the COMPERSe contained three distinct subscales.
“There is now a validated scale that measures three aspects of compersion: positive feelings toward one’s partner’s relationship with an established metamour (a metamour is one’s partner’s partner), excitement about one’s partner potentially forming a new intimate connection, and sexual excitement that one may experience thinking about one’s partner and metamour together. Individuals may experience compersion in ways that are distinct from others and may even vary toward different partners or at different points in time,” Flicker told PsyPost.
The COMPERSe asks participants the extent to which they agree or disagree with statements such as “I am delighted that my partner has a relationship with my metamour,” “My partner and metamour’s relationship turns me on sexually,” and “I share in the emotional high when my partner tells me about a new potential intimate partner.”
But the new study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“A main problem experienced by those of us who conduct quantitative research about consensually non-monogamous relationships is that most relationship measures assume monogamy (despite CNM being fairly common), both in terms of the language used in the scale and in the samples used to validate the scales. Thus, the validation measures we used were the best we could find, but were not ideal in these ways,” Flicker explained.
“In addition, our samples were predominantly White, polyamorous, and women who reported on male/masculine partners with female/feminine metamours. In the future, it would be helpful to explore measurement invariance of the scale across styles of CNM (e.g., swinging, polyamory, open relationships, relationship anarchy, solo polyamory, polyfamily/networks) and across genders and racial/ethnic groups to examine the structure and psychometric properties of the scale within populations that have received relatively little attention/focus.”
Despite the limitations, having a standardized measure of compersion will allow researchers to better understand the causes and consequences of the psychological phenomenon.
“It will be interesting to examine the ability to experience compersion as a trait and as a state-like experience. One goal is to eventually design and test the effectiveness of interventions designed to increase compersion,” Flicker said.
“My current project examines individual, relationship-level, partner-specific, and metamour-specific factors that are associated with greater experiences of compersion. I am essentially seeking to examine how feelings of compersion vary across time or across partners and metamours and what factors may drive such changes/differences. It would also be of interest to determine if differences exist in the extent to which individuals involved in various forms of consensual non-monogamous relationships experience compersion.”
The study, “Feeling Good About Your Partners’ Relationships: Compersion in Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationships“, was authored by Sharon M. Flicker, Michelle D. Vaughan, and Lawrence S. Meyers.