ComperstruggleOct 02, 2023
~ 6 minutes ~
Gritting my teeth and staring out the car window I said two words that can only be categorized as disingenuous: “I’m fine.”
But really, I want to be fine. I want to be more than fine, I want to feel warm, cozy, and filled with the lightness of being that I was promised. I want to feel compersion! I want to have that secure, generous, and genuinely-happy-for-my-partner’s-happiness-feeling. They just had an amazing time at the party we just left. I did too, actually.
And… I feel like shit.
I feel the heat of jealousy in my chest, swirling up neck, stirring my mind to start asking questions I don’t even want the answers to. I WANT to feel happy for my partner. I WANT to feel joyful about the fun they had at the party. I saw them smiling, head tossed back in laughter, arm tossed casually around a new person they’ve been connecting with. I want to feel connected to the joy they were clearly just swimming in.
And… I feel tight knots in my stomach and a thousand snarky sentiments lying in wait for my partner to say something that will unleash the beast inside me.
Where the hell is the compersion I was promised? I’m not feeling it.
You’ve been experiencing comperstruggle. Never heard of comperstruggle? That’s okay, we just coined the word recently. We made it up to help people exactly like you–and us–realize that we’re not alone when jealousy doesn’t neatly transmute into delightful, airy compersion leaving no sticky, hot residue of jealousy behind.
What the hell is comperstruggle?
Like bittersweet, comperstruggle is a naturally occurring mixed emotion.
Comperstruggle happens when jealousy and compersion are both present, maybe to varying degrees, but both happening or at least struggling to happen.
Bittersweetness happens when we feel the overwhelming tug of sadness at the same time that we are awash in joy. Transition times tend to open us up to bittersweet experiences: graduations, moving, or grieving the loss of a long-ill loved one. The mix of these two seemingly incompatible emotions–sadness and happiness–feels complicated but also just *right* given the circumstances.
Comperstruggle happens when you are caught in a mix of jealousy and compersion. Jealousy is the protective emotion we feel when we worry that a valuable love bond will be interrupted by another person. Compersion is the whole-hearted feeling of joy for our partner’s happy experiences, even when they have nothing directly to do with us.
Can I just turn my jealousy into compersion?
Many people ask me to help them transform their jealousy into compersion.
I get why, compersion is a lot more pleasant than jealousy. But I never recommend working toward transforming jealousy into compersion because jealousy serves its own purpose, as much as we might just want to magick it away. it warns us about potential threats, teaches us where we’re feeling insecure, and helps identify weak spots in our agreements with partners.
Jealousy and compersion may seem incompatible, but they are not mutually exclusive.
You can feel them at the same time. Personally, I wasn’t taught to focus on the rich complexity of feeling multiple simultaneous emotions when I was a kid. If you weren’t either then just allowing these two big emotions that have lots of cultural baggage attached to them to coexist within you is a huge win!
This sucks! What to do when you are comperstruggling
I want you to have more wins in your comperstruggle moments. To accomplish that, here are three moves to work on starting right now:
- Stop trying to make jealousy go away
- Attune to compersion
- Relate to your own emotions
Stop trying to make jealousy go away
Jealousy has arrived.
Take a breath if you can. Jealousy often triggers waves of fear, rage, depression, and shame. You aren’t alone, jealousy often gets overwhelming. It’s an emotion designed to keep us connected to our caregivers in infancy when our survival depends on our relationship. Your emotional body may continue to feel survival-fear when jealousy appears. Turn toward the feeling, not away from it. Jealousy feels less ick when you remember that it is an emotion just like any other, it has information for you. In the case of jealousy, that info is about the security of your relationships. But that doesn’t mean that the information is entirely accurate or relevant to your current life.
You can check out the steps of the Jealousy Roadmap, a proven framework to help you work with the green-eyed monster, developed from my doctoral research.
Attune to compersion
Wanting to feel compersion in place of jealousy can actually block you from seeing compersion is already present. Don’t let jealousy block you from seeing the compersion you’re feeling- look for the signs of compersion too.
Compersion isn’t always loud, and sometimes it isn’t the deeply embodied feeling we might wish it to be. I often hear people expecting compersion to feel like they are dancing on a cloud of cotton candy. Most of the time it’s a bit more subtle. Can you notice some attitudinal compersion in you? This might sound like “I’m happy that my partner is happy.” or “I’m grateful for your happiness.” From there you can nurture compersion–I recommend looking into Marie’s work at What Is Compersion.com. She’s been researching what it takes to increase compersion for years.
Relate to your emotions
We all have a range of emotions, some flow easily through us, others we neglect. Wanting to move from comperstruggle to flowing compersion is understandable and I encourage you to nurture your compersion. And, all of your emotions will benefit from the work you do to embrace and allow a full range of dynamic feelings, including ones like jealousy, anger, sadness, shame, and fear.
Relating to your emotions doesn’t mean feeling them and reacting to them unconsciously. Relating to your emotions is about giving yourself the time and permission to feel those emotions, express them in safe ways, and come to recognize every emotion has value.
Expressing overwhelming emotions safely can happen in strong containers with people who have trained to hold space for big emotions. There are many types of individual and group therapy and coaching settings that are designed for exactly this work. Emotional processing through embodied expression and emotional digestion is a very different thing from intellectual processing (I do love intellectual processing, but it’s not enough on its own!) If you’ve been stuck with some of your emotional reactivity, this might be the time to seek out expressive and somatic work to have a new breakthrough.
Comperstruggle is not the easiest emotional spot to be. Time coupled with intentional growth work will change your experience. If you’ve been hoping time would do the trick alone, I invite you to reconsider. Time alone may heal some things, but I’ve never seen it fix anyone’s comperstruggle. Choosing to see this as an opportunity to change how you relate to the messier emotions empowers you to take daily actions toward the life you really want.
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