Emotional reactions to a partner’s extradyadic romantic interests are assumed to be negative and characterized by jealousy, an emotional state that arises over a perceived threat to one’s relationship. Yet, reactions may also be positive, and involve compersion, or taking joy in one’s partner’s pleasure in other sexual and relational encounters. Although some have argued that compersion is the opposite of jealousy, research suggests that compersion and jealousy may not be opposing constructs, despite being treated this way in both theoretical and empirical research. Using a convenience sample of polyamorous (N = 3530) and monogamous (N = 1358) individuals, we draw on theories of jealousy, emotional ambivalence, and emotional forecasting to examine people’s anticipated affective responses to hypothetical situations involving a partner’s extradyadic relations and assess whether experience with having a partner engage in extradyadic relations was associated with anticipating less jealousy and more compersion. Results suggest that people in polyamorous relationships report less jealousy and more compersion with their partners, and that personal experience involving a partner’s extradyadic romantic interests predicted more compersion and less jealousy, with experience predicting greater increases in compersion among monogamous than polyamorous participants. Finally, while anticipated compersion was associated with greater relationship satisfaction, neither jealousy nor ambivalence was associated with relationship satisfaction. These results further demonstrate that individuals can experience both positive and negative reactions to a partner’s extradyadic relations, both based on actual experience and projection of responses to future events, and that real-life experiences are important in anticipating these emotions.
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This work has been supported by an Ontario Trillium Award and Mitacs Accelerate Grant awarded to the first author.
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Balzarini, R.N., McDonald, J.N., Kohut, T. et al. Compersion: When Jealousy-Inducing Situations Don’t (Just) Induce Jealousy. Arch Sex Behav 50, 1311–1324 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01853-1
- Consensual non-monogamy
- Affective forecasting