Jealousy and Compersion

Aaron Ben-Ze'ev
University of Haifa

“Compersion” refers to the joy felt in your partner's romantic or sexual intimacy with someone else. Although of increasing interest in philosophy, compersion has not drawn much attention in experimental science. When and how might it replace jealousy? Which emotion is closer to romantic love (Hart & Legerstee, Jealousy, 2010)? Our emotions toward the good fortune of others can be divided into those in which our evaluation conflicts with the other’s evaluation, such as jealousy and envy, and those in which the two evaluations correlate, such as “happy-for” and admiration. At the basis of the difference is the opposing impact on self-esteem. Compersion is not a new emotion, but a kind of “happy-for.” Jealousy, which involves the fear of losing to someone something personally precious, includes a painful threat to our self-esteem that lead some men to kill their partners (Ben-Ze’ev & Goussinsky, In the Name of Love, 2008). Although jealousy is much more common than compersion, compersion is not conceptually impossible. A spouse might experience compersion in the following circumstances: low sexual intensity in the relation; differences between the spouse and the lover; the spouse is also having an affair; and the spouse is heavily occupied with nonromantic activities (Ben-Ze’ev, The Arc of Love, 2019). Compersion can be valuable in some circumstances, for some people - if such circumstances are not harmful in other ways. Making our partner happy is, after all, what underlies profound love (De Sousa, “Love, Jealousy, and Compersion,” 2018).

July 12th A1.02