The Opposite of Jealousy: Compersion

You might never have heard of the word ‘compersion’ before – neither had I until a couple of years ago when I was reading an article written by someone in a very happy polygamous relationship. It struck me deeply because I find language is such a help to disentangling thoughts and feelings to make sense of them. The feelings of jealousy brought on by being in polygamy were bringing me down and there seemed to be no solution to them apart from completely blocking them out (or some form of extreme hypnotherapy maybe?!). I knew denying these feelings was not psychologically healthy long-term, but how else could I turn this around? .

giving compersion polygamy

I later came across the term again, and that it had polyamorous roots. Compersion can be defined as  “the positive feelings one gets when a lover is enjoying another relationship. Sometimes called the opposite or flip side of jealousy.”  

 

Feeling the opposite to jealous – this must be good! And I have seen it – women who are in polygamous situations are genuinely happy and in fact happier that their husband has another wife.

So I thought it is worth a try, what do I have to lose? By trying to be on good terms with a my co-wife, trying to help her, seeing her as someone I can like – love even – rather than as the competition, why should I be afraid of losing out? All the negativity I was feeling was doing nobody, especially myself, any good.

I see it is rather like the concept of giving a gift to a stranger – not expecting anything back, but actually the good feelings you get from doing this are more valuable than the gift itself. You haven’t lost anything – in fact, you have gained. And if the gift is to someone you love –  your daughter, your mother for example – this can be even more rewarding.

So a few days after finding out about cowife #2, I made an effort to consciously feel  good feelings for her, to be happy for her having time with someone we both love. In the end, their relationship didn’t work out, and now I (and my husband) have an unclosed chapter in this story, not knowing exactly why things happened as they did. The short time I let compersion into my life showed me another path to take when jealousy strikes; I have learned that the situation isn’t hopeless, there are ways to feel better about sharing my husband. Not that I am saying I am now in love with the idea of being in polygamy, but if it happens again, I have some hope I will cope if I use compersion, and maybe find a new kind of happiness.

 

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Understanding Jealousy

I am still trying to get my head around jealousy, what exactly it is,  why it feels so bad, what purpose – if any –  it serves,  and how to allay it or at least not let it affect me to a debilitating level. Jealousy is something most people think of if you mention polygamy – it’s a major cause of why it is so hard to accept for many women. Often I hear, “I’m  a jealous person so I couldn’t cope with it.” We all are prone to jealousy to a certain degree – it is part of human nature – so trying to deny it can be counterproductive, but trying to understand it should help us to manage this highly negative emotion.

Imagine the following scenarios:

Your husband is taking someone out to dinner instead of you.

  1. His other wife
  2. Your and his teenage son
  3. His mother
  4. His male friend who he’s not seen in years

Is your reaction the same to all of these? If not, why not?

I can imagine that scenario #1 would bring out feelings of jealousy in most of us women, but the others not at all, or not with  such strength of feelings. For each scenario, you are still losing the same amount time with your husband and the chance of a eating a scrumptious meal. So how can we can puzzle out the different reactions? If we think about what the purpose is behind the dinner date and  what is the relationship between your husband and the various people that is different, then this may give us a clue.

Another wife could replace you,  fulfil the same needs as you. You can’t replace a son or a mother even if you wanted to. Male friends aren’t either going to try take your place.

Then there is your relationship with the particular person he is taking out; when it is with your son it may make you actually very pleased because two people you love are having a bonding experience. How you feel in him taking out his mother would also depend on your relationship with your mother-in-law! A male friend, well, it could bring some resentment,  but the reason behind could help. If it were a friend who wanted to spend time with your husband in his every spare moment might make it harder but still  not the same intensity as if it were a woman.

Jealousy is in fact a mixture of emotions: anger and fear. You fear consciously or subconsciously some kind of loss, and obviously two negative emotions combined really does not feel good and you want to do anything to make that feeling go away.

Anger

Why are you angry? Something has been done that broke your trust or expectations; I believe this is why the culture you are brought up in, which I wrote about here, helps mold your expectations of marriage and can worsen or diminish feelings of jealousy.  What can be done to counteract this anger? If a husband can be fair and not let you down,  for example,  spend a similar amount of time taking you out somewhere nice as he does with your co wife, then this can avoid a jealousy-inducing situation. This is in fact what Islam requires, and it is when things aren’t done in the right way, when there is a sense thatthings are unfair, that the trouble starts.

Fear of loss

Then there is the fear of loss, that the other wife is better than you in some way so your husband will grow apart from you. In one video I watched, a polyamorous woman talked about when her  girlfriend went off to her other lover, but managed not to feel jealous. Why? Because she felt sure her girlfriend was coming back; she had confidence in the relationship they had. Building a strong relationship when your husband is with you could reduce this fear rather than worrying about what the other wife is doing or how great she is being for your husband. If he comes back, willingly,  then things should be OK. Husbands need to make sure their wife feels wanted more than ever in this situation and mentioning her good points can never be done too often.

Women who aren’t affected by jealousy

From my experience, women I come across who aren’t affected by jealousy, or at least appear not to be, either have been brought up with polygamy as a natural thing, or that their relationship with their husband is not their main focus, but rather their kids or some other part of their life is. Women who have a very strong relationship with their cowife as well as their husband appear to have no jealousy issues, and importantly, they have a high level of self-esteem. Of course having a strong relationship with their Creator is the most important,  but even the Mothers of the believers had pangs of jealousy, and Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) daughter felt  she couldn’t cope with sharing her husband.

So how to manage this jealousy? If we accept we are all going to get our jealous moments, we can get ready and use acts of ‘ibadah such as dhikr to battle the wiswas and Shaytan. Realize the impact of the culture we were brought up in on our feelings, and question it. Nurture our self-esteem (which I hope to write on at a later date) and work on improving our relationship with our husband, co wife (wives) and our Creator.

I am sure there is much more to write on this subject of jealousy. Let’s hear from you in the comments, especially on tips on how to minimize feelings of jealousy.

Polygamy and Betrayal

We have looked at the effects of culture on women’s willingness or not to accept polygamy. Now I want to look at another issue that makes polygamy hard for women to accept: the sense of betrayal. There are two parts to this feeling of betrayal: Firstly, if a woman is culturally expecting a husband to be monogamous, then any pursuit of polygamy will feel like a betrayal, almost at the same level of adultery, and this was addressed in the my most recent blog post. Secondly, there is the betrayal in keeping things hidden which is what I shall look at more closely now. Hopefully, this will help explain why polygamy can feel so bad for many women and show that a man keeping his desire for polygamy and/or subsequent marriage secret is rarely a good idea – for all involved.

Assuming a woman is not willing to be in polygamy, this often leads to a man who wants to marry again to go about it in a secretive way. But going behind someone’s back is worse long-term than being upfront. If a man doesn’t have the courage to tell his wife his intentions either before they even married in the first place (in fear that she might not want to then marry him) or before he subsequently takes another wife, he is actually creating a new set of problems. Maybe he is not telling her with good intentions in mind, but being honest is, as the saying goes, the best policy. When a wife does eventually find out, she then has both the change of lifestyle plus the feelings of betrayal to deal with. Can she ever trust him again?

Why do women in this position feel so betrayed? Although it is, according to some scholars not obligatory to tell one’s wife, in all practicalities it is likely to be revealed at some point, especially if children are involved. And for most women, their expectations are that their husbands will share everything with them – their bad day at work, their excitement over an upcoming football match, who they met at the mosque at Jum’ah – without wanting or needing to hide anything, and vice versa. As a woman, we probably share more than they expect to hear about our day or feelings! So when they have kept a whole compartment of their life secret, especially if they had explicitly or implicitly shown an intention to be monogamous, men should not be surprised when all hell breaks loose!

But still many men do not want to risk their current marriages and keep their polygamy to themselves; they do not want to rock the boat. However, unless they are happy to live double lives (which I believe not many are) they must be brave and face the consequences of their actions.

And many might disagree, but bravery is also required by us as women to fight the internal battle of dislike and acceptance of sharing their husband, mentioned in this post, and understand the other side of polygamy – that it is not all negative. Then I hope men will be less scared to bring it up and the incidence of this double whammy of betrayal and ‘you are now in polygamy’ will be reduced.

So secret marriages happen, too often from my experience, and subsequently lower the opinions of many even more about polygamy. Being betrayed, especially by someone close to you is devastating and only you can decide if you can trust that person again – they are going to have to put a lot of work into rebuilding that trust, but trust me, it is possible.

Have you been betrayed in this way? Have you managed to regain trust in your husband and if so, how? Leave a comment and do share with those who might benefit. Also come over and visit, like and share the Polygamy Unpicked Facebook page where you’ll find more thoughts and opinions from those also trying to unpick polygamy!

 

Why Polygamy is Hard For Most Women to Accept: Culture

Nowadays, monogamy is the norm in most cultures – well, serial monogamy at least. Having more than one sexual partner is usually accepted, if not expected, but to have more than one at the same time – no, no. If you do, it is often under the guise of mistresses or swingers, which although often frowned upon, will still be just within the boundaries of things that make people’s jaws drop or pass laws against. But for polygamy, this is usually not the case; legitimizing this way of life has been seen as the final frontier, now a threat more than same sex marriages. I can see that when the consent aspect is neglected there is an issue, but for consenting adults, what is different to consenting gay couples? Right now in 2016, the culture of many societies is that polygamy just isn’t natural, it’s not something we should allow.

And on a side note, because it is most often polygyny (more than one wife, rather than polyandry (more than one husband) the equality card is also brought in – it’s not fair on women. However, I’d be interested to see if women with more than one husband would be treated the same as men with more than one wife in the monogamy-supporting countries!

So what is it in these cultures that sustains the opinion of what relationship is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ or ‘unnatural’?

There is the legislation itself; until fairly recently in the UK for example, adultery was a crime  i.e. having another relationship while still married, and is still a beeline reason for a divorce.

And there are  the more subtle influences such as popular music, the lyrics emphasising the one true love you will only have, ‘You are my everything’,  ‘I dare you to let me be  your one and only.’ Culture is also reflected in the language; in English, your spouse is your ‘other half’, not your other quarter/third – of course.

Monogamy in children’s books and toys, such as Barbie and Ken predominate. This is so also for homosexual relations, but it will probably not be long before same sex couples will be portrayed through items such as toys. There are already books available depicting diverse families within children’s stories such as Mommy, Mama, and me, so this shows that cultures do change. Cultures do influence the lives of those not fitting in with the norm, so I imagine it is now a lot easier for a gay person to come out than 25 years ago.

It is not only restricted to Western, ‘modern’ societies where polygamy is looked down upon. Despite it being legal in Pakistan, it is still a practice discouraged culturally. The way men often practice polygamy also contributes negatively to its cultural acceptance; unequal treatment and leaving a woman hanging in favour of the next, newer model of course gives polygamy a bad reputation. Unfortunately, happy polygamous families are rarely in the spotlight. There are the TV shows in the US which have depicted willing and happy as polygamous families such as Sister Wives and My Five Wives, although I imagine many people watch these to see if the jealousy and drama is as real as they imagine in polygamy situations.

Cultures supporting polygamy

So if we look at women who don’t mind polygamy or even want it as a family setup, often they will have been brought up in a culture where it is the norm. For example, in the article ‘My Two Mothers’ in SISTERS magazine about a family in Nigeria, polygamy was a normal thing and so having two ‘mothers’ was also. I have also heard of women whose family members start to have concerns if their son-in-law doesn’t take another wife.

Although there is usually natural jealousy that occurs (which we will look at soon insha Allah) the presiding culture has the capability to magnify or reduce this. In the time of the Prophet (SAW), the number of wives was unlimited and the ruling in the Qur’an actually limited it to four. So the wives of the Prophet (SAW) did have their jealous moments, but as well as a high level of iman and trust in Allah (SWT), they weren’t supplied with the ammunition of anti-polygamy sentiment that many modern day societies manufacture.

Polyamory (consensual non-monogamy) is becoming more and more accepted in Western cultures – but whether this will ever lead to equal treatment and acceptance in the law and society remains to be seen. If it ever does, I think the next generation of Muslim women should have an easier time if their husbands decide to take another wife.

Overriding the cultural influence

So if you are in polygamy, perhaps to begin with unwillingly, but still want to remain and be happy in your relationship with your husband, what can we learn here? Acknowledge that we are a product of nature and nurture, with our culture probably nurturing our jealousy so much that we need to counteract this somehow. Make that rock you may feel you are stuck between a softer place by surrounding yourself with positive examples of polygamy – join relevant Facebook groups, try to meet up with sisters who are happy in polygamy rather than those who would embolden the cultural norm of rejecting polygamy, maybe even encouraging you to the very hard place of divorce. And if you have daughters, try to show polygamy in a positive light, because for them it could also be a reality and they would then have the advantage of being brought up in a culture of acceptance rather than having to deal with the negative cultural influences and hence also find this kind of a relationship a severe trial. All this may be easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot because polygamy is here to stay whether your culture agrees with it or not.