Jealousy and Compersion in Close Relationships

Coping Styles by Relationship Types

Diploma Thesis, 2009

144 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Free online reading

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Background
2.1 Jealousy
2.1.1 Definitions
2.1.2 Envy and Jealousy
2.1.3 Theories
2.1.4 Person-Situation-Interaction
2.1.5 Coping Styles
2.1.6 Sex Differences in Studies
2.2 Compersion
2.2.1 Definition of Compersion
2.2.2 Coping Styles
2.3 Close Relationships
2.4 Relationship Types
2.4.1 Monogamous Relationships
2.4.2 Polygamous Relationships
2.4.3 Links between Polygamy and Monogamy
2.4.4 Polyamorous Relationships
2.4.5 Polyamory, Polygamy and Swinging
2.5 Relationship Satisfaction
2.6 Need for Affect
2.7 Research Questions

3 Method
3.1 Sample
3.2 Socio-demographical Data
3.3 Need for Affect
3.4 Relationship Assessment Scale
3.5 Trait Jealousy
3.6 State Jealousy
3.7 Trait Compersion
3.8 State Compersion

4 Results
4.1 Sample Description
4.2 Relationship Data
4.3 Factor Analysis Compersion
4.3.1 Trait Compersion
4.3.2 State Compersion in the Situation Flirt
4.3.3 State Compersion in the Situation of learning about another Relationship
4.4 Relations of Jealousy and Compersion
4.5 Differences of Levels in Jealousy and Compersion in Subgroups
4.5.1 MANOVA Trait Jealousy
4.5.2 MANOVA Trait Compersion
4.5.3 MANOVA State Jealousy
4.5.4 MANOVA State Compersion
4.6 Regression for Attitude Prediction
4.7.1 Need for affect
4.7.2 Relationship Satisfaction

5 Discussion
5.1 Qualification of the Sample
5.2 Measures of Compersion
5.2.1 Compersion as a Trait
5.2.2 Compersion as a State
5.2.3 Trait and State Compersion
5.2.4 Evaluation of Research Question One
5.3 Relations between Jealousy and Compersion
5.3.1 Relations of the Constructs
5.3.2 Evaluation of Research Question Two
5.4 Trait and Compersion by segmentation groups
5.4.1 Trait Jealousy
5.4.2 Trait Compersion
5.4.3 State Jealousy
5.4.4 State compersion
5.4.5 Evaluation of Research Question Three
5.5 Need for Affect
5.6 Relationship satisfaction
5.7 General evaluation of the study
5.7.1 Feedback
5.7.2 Questionnaires and data collection
5.7.3 Outlook

6 Summary



Appendix A Overviews
A1. Overview of the sample dispersion

Appendix B German – English Translations
B.1 Translation Pines Questionnaire used as Trait Jealousy Questionnaire
B.2 Compersion Trait Questionnaire (CTQ) Translation
B.3 Overview and Translation of Jealousy and Compersion States – ordered in actual appearance within the questionnaire

Appendix C Full German Questionnaire

Appendix D Complete Results
D.1 Pattern Matrix Trait Compersion
D.2 Factor Analysis – Compersion State Situation 1 Full Results
D.3 Factor Analysis – Compersion State Situation 2 Full Results
D.4 Factor structure for Compersion State 2


Table 1: Chosen jealousy state characteristics (initial Bryson (1991) vs. present study)

Table 2: Participants by age

Table 3: Number of relationships by attitude

Table 4: Means and modus of duration depending on the relationship style

Table 5: Factor one: own positive feelings [T1]

Table 6: Factor two: Inclusion of new partners [T2]

Table 7: Item Structure for factor one: positive emotional impact [S1]

Table 8: Item structure for factor two: emotional security [S2]

Table 9: Item structure for factor three: curiosity [S3]

Table 10: Item structure for factor four: enhanced sexual attractiveness [S4]

Table 11: Item loadings for positive emotional impact [S1]

Table 12: Item loadings for emotional security [S2]

Table 13: Item loadings for curiosity [S3]

Table 14: Item Loadings for enhanced sexual attractiveness [S4]

Table 15: Correlations between trait jealousy and trait compersion

Table 16: Correlations between trait and state jealousy

Table 17: Correlations between trait and state compersion

Table 18: Correlations between state jealousy and state compersion

Table 19: Pattern matrix for trait compersion and trait jealousy

Table 20: Pattern matrix for state compersion and state jealousy

Table 21: Means of jealousy by lived polyamory and polyamorous attitude

Table 22: Means and standard deviations of jealousy

Table 23: Jealousy intensity by age

Table 24: Jealousy intensity by attitude and age

Table 25: Means and standard deviations for jealousy (person) by sex

Table 26: Means and standard deviations for jealousy (person) by attitude

Table 27: Means and standard deviations of jealousy (person) by attitude and sex

Table 28: Trait compersion levels of both factors by age

Table 30: Trait levels for own positive feelings [T1] in compersion by age

Table 31: Trait levels for inclusion of new partners [T2] by attitude

Table 33: Reaction to betrayal (state jealousy) by sex

Table 34: Reaction to betrayal (state jealousy) by attitude

Table 36: Emotional devastation (state jealousy) by sex

Table 37: Emotional devastation (state jealousy) by attitude

Table 39: Anger and aggression (state jealousy) by sex

Table 40: Anger and aggression (state jealousy) by attitude

Table 41: Anger and aggression (state jealousy) by age

Table 42: Reactive retribution (state jealousy) by sex

Table 43: Reactive retribution (state jealousy) by attitude

Table 44: State compersion positive emotional impact [S1] by attitude

Table 45: State Compersion emotional security [S2] by sex

Table 46: State Compersion emotional security [S2] by attitude

Table 47: State compersion curiosity [S3] by attitude

Table 48: State Compersion enhanced sexual attractiveness [S4] by attitude

Table 49: State compersion enhanced sexual attractiveness [S4] by age

Table 50: Binary logistics regression for explaining attitude by sex, age, trait jealousy and

trait compersion variables

Table 51: Need for affect (avoidance) by age

Table 52: Need for affect (approach) by sex

Table 53: Need for affect (approach) by attitude

Table 54: Means of relationship assessment by number of relationships

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Age and sex

Figure 2: Overview of degrees in percent

Figure 3: Distribution of sexual orientation

Figure 4: Interaction of attitude and age in trait jealousy (intensity)

Figure 5: Interaction of attitude and sex in trait jealousy (person)

Figure 6: Scatter Plot of compersion and jealousy

Figure 7: Interaction of age and attitude (estimated marginal means)

Figure 8: 3-Dimensional visualisation of the regression as a whole 75

Figure 9: 3-Dimensional visualisation of the attitude prediction 76

Table of Charts

Chart 1: Overview and sequence of the questionnaires

Chart 2: Relations of jealousy and compersion

1 Introduction

After reading the title of this thesis, there is one word most people will in all likelihood not know: compersion. Compersion designates empathy and happiness for the partner on a relationship level. Whereas most people can be happy for the partner in a new job which satisfies him/her much more than did the old one, or for the partner meeting a good friend, a lot of people would negate being happy for their own partner finding someone else to love – and doing it. Compersion is often described as the opposite of jealousy, with jealousy being a more common reaction to the partner meeting a new love. The term compersion has been discovered within the American polyamory movement which subcribes to a relationship orientation that includes several intimate, consensual, responsible, and long-term relationships in which all relationship partners know of one another and/or are familiar with each other.

In our time, serial monogamy is the most common relationship practice. It includes exclusive relationship rights and agreements. It comes with the cost and benefits of letting the other partner be the “only one” until the next only one comes along or of cheating on the partner, if the love to someone else starts. Usually this new love is suppressed, because it is assumed that the old partners must part ways as soon as someone new comes along.

Loving several people at a time is a taboo, which is why polyamorous people often face social marginalisation in everyday life, being treated prejudicially or ostracised. Typical questions they find themselves confronted with would be “Why would you do that to your partner?”, “You are young; you can live like that for a while. Someday you will grow up.”, “Aren’t you too old for that?” and “Aren’t you only suppressing your jealousy?”.

The relation between compersion and jealousy is an often dicussed topic in the polyamorous community as every individual perceives it differently. Therefore, a lot of equally valid and parallel views exist. Some, for instance, have had the experience of compersion replacing jealousy, some see it as a reminder of some deeper propensity in themselves or of their relationship being out of balance, others have never experienced jealousy themselves but only through their partners’ reactions. A lot agree that jealousy is a cultural construct learned in early life, which can be overcome, and that it should be regarded as an important signal. Furthermore, there is general consent among polyamorous people that it should not be cultivated to become a persistent part of their relationship, as they see it as an expression of a proprietary hold on them. Moreover, many are convinced of being able to use jealousy as an impetus to change in the direction of a less aggressive or invasive form of being together and to reconcile a free choice of love with the responsibility for their partners.

In order to show that there is an alternative to jealousy reactions and to find out how this alternative is structured as a character trait as well as a concrete situational reaction, this work aims to find the components of compersion and to put them into perspective with jealousy and other constructs like relationship satisfaction.

One other essential reason for researching this topic is the fact that between 1992 and 2004, only twelve texts on polyamory have been published (Haritaworn et al, 2006) - most of them are practicioners’ guides and handbooks. Other articles have focused mostly on queer theory and on how to integrate polyamory into it.

The theoretical background will consist of definitions, descriptions, and delimitations relevant for understanding the constructs analysed in this study. These constructs include jealousy, compersion, and romantic relationships, as well as the differences between types of romantic relationships. Moreover, relationship satisfaction and need for affect will, as possible moderators, be described. Based on the theoretical background, specific hypotheses will be proposed with respect to the variables analysed. In chapter 3, the method of analysis will be presented by showing how the online questionnaire was constructed and which parts it includes. Then the results of the study will be presented and discussed in chapters 4 and 5. Finally, a concluding summary and suggestions for further research will round off this study.

2 Theoretical Background

In Germany, currently the most frequently desired type of relationship is a long­term relationship with one partner and including children. Nevertheless, half of the marriages contracted every year are split up later. (Kümmel 2008) Between 1996 and 2006, alternative ways of living together like flat-sharing, living communities and living together as unmarried couples rose by 30%. (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2007). Among divorced couples, 80% state that an affair preceded their separation. Jealousy, therefore, could be regarded as a natural defense strategy against a perceived threat to the relationship. At any rate it is a common reaction. As the majority of people in western European countries live in monogamous two-person-relationships (Peluso, 2007), jealousy is often the price for being flirtatious or for openly showing sexual or emotional interest in people other than one’s official partner. Some even see jealousy as an intrinsic part of love (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).

2.1 Jealousy

Jealousy usually comprises several other feelings like anxiety, anger, sadness, disgust, hatred and envy and is described by a combination of thoughts, feelings and actions (Solomon, 2004). In order to be jealous, two factors are necessary: first, the partner’s actual or imaginary involvement – sexual or not – with another person has to be contrary to his/her definition of a relationship. Second, the relationship must be perceived as valuable (Hansen, 1991). As such, the construct jealousy is seen as a social or complex emotion, resulting in inter-individually differing reaction patterns. Those will be explained by Lazarus’s model of coping.

In this chapter, some of the existing definitions of jealousy and the one chosen for this thesis will be presented. Also, the most relevant theories explaining the genesis of jealousy, of sex differences within jealousy and of coping styles will be elaborated on.

2.1.1 Definitions

By lexical definition, jealousy is a “jealous resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage or against another’s success or advantage itself“. This resentment can be seen as a feeling, a disposition, a state or a mood. It includes a “mental uneasiness from suspicion or fear of rivalry, unfaithfulness etc. as in love or aims“, which usually manifests itself in a behaviour of “vigilance in maintaining or guarding something”. Under the entry of the adjective “jealous” another important aspect not mentioned before is added: “being intolerant of unfaithfulness or rivalry”. (jealousy, jealous. (1966). In Random House Dictionary)

The German word for jealousy is “Eifersucht.” Luther’s translation of the Latin root of “jealousy”, “z(a)elus”, first uses “Eifer” in the sense of “friendly envy, gentle ire” (freundlicher Neid, lieblicher Zorn). Later that meaning changed to “searching eagerly for a good cause” (“heftiges Bemühen um eine gute Sache“). The element of “resentment“ mentioned in the English definition of the term is, however, also included in the “eifer“ as it is probably related etymologically to the medieval German „eivar“ meaning “bitter, biting” and the English „afor“ meaning “tart and biting”. (Eifer. (1963). Etymologie; Herkunftswörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Der Große Duden, Vol. 7).

The German second word “Sucht” can be interpreted in two ways. The main translation would be addiction; the second one would be the search for something. Both of these connotations can be seen as aspects of jealousy with the conglomerate expressing different meanings depending on which of the two connotations prevails: in one case, jealousy is an addiction, in the other it is a characteristic that requires the actor to search for something to be jealous of. In both cases – from a linguistic point of view – the element of choice is inherent: one chooses the drug that makes one addicted, or respectively, decides to search for someone/something to be jealous of. However, in the former case, the choice is not entirely free, as the term “Sucht” also implies a disease or mental condition inflicted rather than being freely chosen.

Even within one theory, there are nearly as many different psychological definitions of jealousy as there are studies about it. Still, some of them will be quoted in order to show similarities.

- Bringle and Buunk (1985) define jealousy as an aversive emotional reaction, as a result of an extra-dyadic real, probable, or imaginary relationship engaged in by one of the partners.
- Pines (1989) defined jealousy as a complex reaction to a perceived threat to a valued relationship or to its quality.
- Guerrero et al. (2004) defined jealousy as “a cognitive, emotional and behavioural response to a relationship threat”.
- Bryson (1991) sees jealousy as a compound of several different negative emotions that arise in situations considered to be jealousy-evoking.

The shared components of these definitions are an exclusive romantic relationship as the point of departure that is being threatened by a third party. As the first definition points out, this threat is subjectively real to one of the partners. It usually is accompanied by the fear of losing one’s partner to a rival (Marneros, 2007).

A definition of jealousy, which integrates more facets, stems from White (1981). He describes jealousy as “a complex of thoughts, emotions and actions that follows loss of, or threat to, self-esteem and/or to the existence or the quality of the romantic relationship. The perceived loss or threat is generated by the perception of a real or potential romantic attraction between one’s partner and a (perhaps imaginary) rival.” Moreover, White posits an existing close relationship between two people and a third party (seen as a threat) as well as social norms dictating strict exclusivity as factors predisposing to jealousy (White, 1981). The aim of jealousy is usually to preserve the existing relationship, to lower uncertainty, and to restore one’s own self-esteem. (White, 1991; Knobloch et al., 2001; Rosenberg, 1989)

Several components of White’s definition need to be accentuated and discussed:

First of all, the definition focuses on the word “complex”. Jealousy cannot be explained by either cognition, or emotion, or behaviour alone. The complexity of jealousy arises because it comprises and combines so many different levels of human perception, transformation, feeling, and action. This is why in section 2.1.3, several theories on how jealousy evolves will be given.

Second, White includes as factors predisposing towards jealousy social norms “dictating strict exclusivity” for any given relationship. The acceptance of and agreement on a relationship based on those social norms on the part of the two partners in the relationship is thus a necessary condition for jealousy to have a basis to develop. In other words this social norm has to be originally seen by both as being valid, to a certain extent, to be effective in causing jealousy in one of them.

It must be noted that White’s use of exclusivity does not sufficiently define that term. Depending on whether exclusivity is regarded as focussing on levels of intense communication, of loving feelings, of intimacy – sexual or not – or just on the status of a relationship itself in terms of “ownership”, it will predispose towards jealousy differently in different situations. By claiming a certain area – for instance, sexual intercourse, as is most often the case, – as having to be shared exclusively, the social norm of exclusivity confers a special status and importance upon that area regardless of whether this area otherwise plays an important role in the given relationship or not.

Third, “seen as a threat” indicates that a third person involved is considered a risk by one of the parties involved in the relationship. The main focus, however, lying on that party’s perception of the third person, the threat does not have to be real at all but can be imaginary or construed or a reflection of that party’s own general lack of self-assurance.

Fourth, there are two avoidance-driven implicit reasons for jealousy. The jealous person is either afraid of losing the relationship itself or fears loneliness, or a loss of self-esteem (by judging him/herself less appreciated and loved than the other, third person) – or both. Mathes, Adams and Davies (1985) could prove both of those fears as valid reasons for jealousy. Further studies by Salovey and Rodin (1989) proved that people with little self-esteem and self-worth are more prone to feelings of jealousy.

Some authors underline the positive side of jealousy claiming it shows the love and affection felt for the partner within a relationship, or that it makes people realize the extent to which another one cares about them. It can intensify the feelings within the relationship and therefore be good for the relationship. (Pines, 1998) Usually, the negative consequences and emotions like fear or anger prevail and let people worry about the relationship to the extent that they refrain from behaviour that might jeopardize the relationship. (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1998)

Different sub-categories of jealousy are defined within jealousy literature:

First, suspicious jealousy vs. fait accompli (French for: accomplished fact) jealousy: suspicious jealousy is of anticipatory nature and usually leads the person to suspecting the partner of cheating in one way or the other. It is usually accompanied by alertness, spying, and distrust. Fait accompli jealousy is jealousy based on fully knowing that the partner has cheated. (Bringle, 1991)

Second, “normal” vs. “pathological” jealousy: normal jealousy is referred to as happening to all people, whereas jealousy is considered pathological as soon as it is dangerous for others or for oneself. (Pines, 1998)

Third, emotional vs. sexual jealousy: evolutionary psychologists accentuate those two forms of jealousy. Guerrero et al. (2004) discriminate between sexual and emotional jealousy: sexual jealousy refers to a perceived threat by a sexual act on the part of the partner with a third party; emotional jealousy refers to emotional involvement with a third party. This difference has been explained differently by DeSteno & Salovey (1996) who argue that the differences are predicated on a low level of jealousy when there is either emotional OR sexual infidelity, but on a high level of jealousy in case of emotional AND sexual infidelity. Regarding gender differences this will be further analysed in chapter 2.1.5.

2.1.2 Envy and Jealousy

Envy is often confused with jealousy and despite their being related they are different constructs. Envy, socially more disapproved of than jealousy, usually refers to a wish for possessing or a sadness about not possessing a specific object, whereas jealousy implies losing something precious one already owns or thinks one owns. It can thus be distinguished from envy, which is usually focussed not on preventing loss, but on taking something precious away from another person (Perrod & Smith, 1993; Wurmser & Jarass, 2008; Lazarus, 1994).

Another link between envy and jealousy is the fact that envy is often experienced in contexts that evoke jealousy. Thus, Pines and Aronson (1983) found that people were most jealous of someone they knew and envied. Jealousy, on the other hand, is less likely to be part of envy-provoking situations as envy usually occurs in situations and relates to objects rather than people (Hewstone, 2001).

2.1.3 Theories

As pointed out in chapter 2.1.1, there are different definitions of jealousy. Similarly, different psychological perspectives on how and why jealousy exists can be found. The main theoretical backgrounds will be presented in this section.

a) Evolutionary Theories

Evolutionary theories see jealousy as a natural and necessary feeling; older theories describe it as instinctive reaction (Darwin, 1871). As the real or potential threat could not only damage the relationship but also jeopardize the control over the dissemination of genes, jealousy is seen as an innate reflex. It is a combination of two processes: first, it ensures that the biological father has really sired the child he wants to take care of. Second, it secures the prehistoric potential mother’s need to have the biological father take care of her and the newborn child.

(Buss, 2002) This results in different patterns in which male and female partners respond with jealousy: while the male cannot be sure about his being the father unless he jealously guards his mate against having sexual contact with another male, the female is sure about her own contribution of genes to her offspring. On the other hand, an emotionally relevant relationship between “her” male and another female threatens to reduce or even to completely cancel the protection and maintenance provided by the male for that offspring. Despite the gender-specific different response focus and patterns, jealousy, as a protective behaviour, thus secures the future of the male’s and the female’s own succession in both cases.

b) Analytical Theories

Freud (1963) defines jealousy as a normal affective state and is convinced that a lack of jealousy is a strong indicator for repression and should therefore be avoided. He assumes jealousy to be rooted in the unconscious and to not be available to conscious access. He distinguishes three different levels of jealousy:

First, Freud defines concurrent/normal jealousy as a combination of narcissistic offence and the hurt created by the loss of a love object (or by the thought thereof). Moreover, there are hostile feelings for the rival, stemming from self-criticism blaming the ego for the loss of love. This jealousy is linked to Oedipal or sibling complexes. Second, there is projected jealousy, which means that previous infidelity, either acted out or toyed with by oneself is attributed to the partner. Third, there is delusional jealousy. The fear of losing one’s partner’s love, or even the entire relationship assumes overwhelming proportions. According to Freud, it roots in repression.

c) Social Exchange Theory

According to the social exchange theory, the main reason for staying in or for leaving a human relationship is determined by the perceived benefits from the relationship. Those are weighed against the subjectively perceived costs and if the costs outweigh the benefits, people will quit the relationship. For receiving something from a partner, one must give something. The partnership is seen as most stable when giving and taking by both people involved are equitable (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959, 1986).

Regarding jealousy, a special concern has to be given to the variable of control: the control of the outcomes in terms of direct reward or punishment for certain behaviours is based on established norms and rules within the relationship (Buunk, 1991). Three aspects are relevant regarding the genesis of jealousy. The first is relevant when one partner has invested more in the relationship than the other person in terms of love, intimacy, and leisure time activities. The received benefits are evaluated against a minimum expected benefit. The second aspect is the degree of dependence. It designates one’s ability to control or influence the benefits received from one’s partner. If the momentary rewards within the relationship are higher than other rewards from the outside, dependence is given. The third aspect designates the relative degree of dependence on the relationship: how dependent is one of the partners on the relationship compared to the other partner. The one who is less dependent on the relationship presumably also has more interaction with other people and therefore has more power within the relationship, whereas the other partner draws all his/her rewards from the relationship and believes the relationship to be the only source of rewards. Subsequently, this partner is more involved, more jealous and more in love than the other partner (Amelang, 1991). If the partner is seen as having infringed upon the tacit norm of reciprocity, jealousy arises. If and when the partner devotes time and energy to a person outside the relationship, the perceived imbalance or unfair exchange then results in feelings of jealousy.

d) Evaluation of Theories

Regarding the theoretical background, there are theories - like the biological one -, which seem more plausible than others. But in so far as they negate the need for other explanations, they are problematic: if to use the example of the biological explanation, there is just a genetic component and evolutionary mechanism that will let us act jealously, we are clearly helpless to change it. On the other hand, in its attempt to explain gender differences, this theoretical framework is based on rather speculative assumptions about mechanisms in pre-historic times, e.g. the one that there was much chance to cheat on one’s partner, then. Furthermore, it disregards a possible evolution of social abilities within the evolutionary process of the human brain.

American evolutionary psychologists like Buss and colleagues have researched sex differences concerning the levels of jealousy experienced after imagining emotional and sexual infidelity (e.g. Buss et al. 1992, 1997, 1999, 2000). Using a forced choice method, and mostly researching psychology student samples, they found significant differences, which could be reproduced in more than 20 studies. Their findings implied that men tended to act more jealously when sexual infidelity was imagined and tended to act more aggressively when confronted with jealousy; women were more involved when emotional infidelity was imagined.

Harris (2004), however, argues that these results are due to men’s higher general tendency to act out violently. Standardising the numbers, she found that there is in fact no difference between the sexes regarding jealousy-related violence, nor do the effects last when the people in the sample grow older.

The analytical approach anchors jealousy in the unconscious, which (without a shrink) significantly shrinks the chances of an individual to understand it on his/her own as well. The label “normal jealousy” provokes the question of its sensitivity to history. In literature and research between 1945 and 1985, the societal attitudes have changed significantly. From 1945 to 1965 jealousy was treated as a sign of love and as being good for marriage. Women, in particular were told to control their own jealousy but to interpret their husband’s as a symbol of love and affection. This observation is consistent with the idea that jealousy serves as a mechanism to help people keep their mates and protect the relationship (see evolutionary theory). In the 1970s, jealousy was viewed as being the result of insecurity and little self-control in terms of managing emotions. People started to feel guilty about jealousy and it was evaluated as having only negative effects on relationships. Whenever temporary insecurity and jealousy lead to transgression and violence, most people find this unacceptable. (Spitzberg, Cupach, 1998) The analytical point of view might therefore be better suited to explaining clinically relevant rather than “normal “jealousy.

The social exchange theory is explanatory for those who see their partner and the relationship as a possession to invest in and be rewarded by. Thoughts of consumption and property regarding the romantic partner and his/her love form the basis of relationships in this conceptual framework. If one does not behave jealously, it is to be feared that one loses something owned (Damm, 2006). This fear of loss is inherent in, and explains one of the characteristics of, jealousy as it has developed within our society over time. Jealousy is seen as a logical consequence of the capitalistic accumulation of wealth. When, instead of experiencing a loving upbringing, a child for example learns that TV substitutes a lot for the parent’s time and attention, the personal value of owning certain commodities becomes more important than human relations themselves. According to this view, it is to be assumed that similarly the romantic partner is primarily regarded as a safely owned commodity to which access is guaranteed by virtue (or power) of one’s (marital) agreement.

The premise regarding the definitions and theories of jealousy within this thesis is that each theory and definition explaining jealousy has a valid explanatory context to which deference will be paid in the respective parts of the discussion.

The element linking the sub-aspects of the constructs of compersion and jealousy shall be Lazarus’s theory of behaviour, cognition, and emotion as all three levels of human reaction are comprised in both constructs.

White’s definition of jealousy will be used as a starting point for this investigation, as it implies all levels of reaction patterns (thoughts, emotion, and behaviour). If jealousy is learned, a closer look at how it manifests itself in typical behaviours, cognitions and emotions in reaction to the partner’s jealousy-evoking situations or behaviours will perhaps reveal something about the extent to which jealousy can be regarded as a state or a disposition. The next chapter will, therefore, deal with jealousy as a disposition as compared to jealousy as a state. It is followed by a chapter about coping – first within the framework of the general coping theory by Lazarus, and secondly with a view towards the specific coping strategies of jealousy-evoking situations.

2.1.4 Person-Situation-Interaction

Emotions are built as a result of cognitive processes evaluating the person-environment interaction. This makes emotions complex organised states comprising cognitive evaluations, action impulses and physical reactions. This implies that situations themselves do not evoke reactions but that the cognitive processes happening between a situation and a reaction do (see primary, secondary and reappraisal in the following chapter). (Lazarus et al. 1974)

Bringle refers to dispositional jealousy in terms of individual differences occuring in the evaluation of jealousy-evoking situations and reactions. The author does not refer to it as trait but underlines the dispositional character, so that changes from one situation to another are possible. Mathes (1985) argues that jealousy is in fact a disposition rather than a trait because “jealous people score high on jealousy, regardless of the instrument used to measure jealousy and regardless of the target of the jealousy (...)” whereas, “nonjealous people score low on jealousy regardless of the instrument used to measure it and regardless of the target of the jealousy”. (p.65) Bryson (1991), though, sees jealousy-evoking situations as being important to experiencing jealousy.

Bringle & Evenbeck (1979) underline that there are relatively stable characteristics within people letting one person be more prone than another to a higher level in dispositional jealousy. Such characteristics include higher anxiety levels (Bringle et al. 1977, Buunk, 1982), depression and neuroticism (Bringle, 1981), and dogmatism (Bringle et al. 1977; Guerrero, 2004). Dispositionally jealous persons seek to shape their partners’ behaviour to their advantage. By showing jealous behaviour, they enhance their need satisfaction. This in turn exacerbates their jealous disposition: the more people are convinced of their partner being the only person in life who can satisfy their needs, the more jealous they usually are Jealousy and Compersion in Close Relationships –Coping Styles by Relationship Types (Buunk, 1982).

Apart from the personal view of jealousy as a state or a trait, the type of situation involved usually influences the level of jealousy. Bringle (1981) found that having an affair is very different from flirting with another person. Usually, the level of jealousy is lower in the latter situation. Another situational factor would be the physical attractiveness of the person that is flirting with the partner. To keep the situation variable simple, this was eliminated from the questionnaire used in this study.

What will be analysed, however, is whether the intensity level of jealousy differs within situations. The Pines Self-Report-Jealousy scale will be used to determine the trait jealousy and will be compared to different levels of state jealousy reactions within situations that have different propensities in evoking jealousy.

2.1.5 Coping Styles

The coping theory of Lazarus explains how individuals deal with situations in their environment in general. Lazarus understands the individual as evaluating its environment: Individuals search for cues in their environment with respect to their needs or desires and they evaluate each input as to its relevance and significance. (Lazarus & Averill, 1972) This process is a person-environment process, which has direct or indirect effects on the response to a situation and back onto the situation itself. During this process, different steps of appraisal take place: primary appraisal, secondary appraisal, and reappraisal.

Primary appraisal is the evaluation of an event for its significance to the individual’s well-being. The event itself is either judged as irrelevant, benign/positive, or stressful. In the first case, the well-being is not affected, and evaluating a situation as irrelevant usually has no emotional consequnces. In the second case, the well-being is enhanced and positive emotions follow. The third case of stressful events involves a harm (injury) or loss for the individual or a threat (anticipated danger). Those evaluations usually lead to negative emotions. There is, however, the possibility of the individual evaluating the event as a challenge, which can lead to positive gains, such as personal growth or a sense of mastery over the situation. An event is experienced as stressful when its characteristics cause an external and/ or internal demand to tax or to exceed the adaptive resources of an individual. (Lazarus & Launier, 1978) Coping is therefore defined as a process of constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts to manage those demands the individual evaluates as being highly relevant to his/her well-being. The appraisal of an event and how it will affect one’s well-being determines the coping mechanisms used. (Cooper & Dewe, 2004)

Secondary appraisal designates an evaluation of the possible alternative courses of action – and of the potential coping resources – for dealing with the event, especially if the event is a stressful one. When stressful events like harm, loss or threat and challenge are faced, it plays an important role how much control can be exerted (Seiffge, 1995). When a person has a low self-esteem, for instance, there is usually a lower pool of coping strategies available to be choosing from (White, 1981a).

Reappraisal shows the dynamics of the coping process: it involves a changed evaluation because of either a new judgment concerning the initial event or a change in the situation. This change might also be the result of former coping strategies applied. The various appraisals lead to coping activities, which may involve either direct action (to change the external situation) or intra-psychic coping processes (like the use of defence mechanisms).

Coping is influenced by appraisal, but coping also influences appraisal: the coping itself and the emotional and cognitive experiences in its wake, can lead to judging the situation anew as well. (Crandall, Perrewe, 1995)

Lazarus studied the relationship between emotions and the coping process. He found that every emotion is linked to a specific pattern of appraisals (Cooper & Dewe, 2004). Jealousy he defined as “resenting a third party for loss, or threat of loss, of another’s favour” (1994).

Consequently, jealousy situations are usually experienced as being stressful (Lazarus, 1999) in terms of being potentially harmful to a person’s feelings or a potentially threat to the relationship, and thereby menacing the person’s well­being, the strategies of dealing with jealousy will be shown.

Different coping strategies with jealousy-evoking situations have been researched and factor-analysed by Bryson (1991). In his research, Bryson focused on a multidimensional conception of jealousy responses within different cultures. He researched in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States and distinguished eight different factors, several of which will reappear in the online questionnaire. Thus Bryson’s structure serves as a framework.

1. Reaction to Betrayal: this response factor entails feeling betrayed, doubting, spying on, or feeling angry toward the partner, and, as a result, giving the partner the cold shoulder or ending the relationship.

2. Emotional Devastation: this factor comprises feeling helpless, insecure, confused, inadequate, fearful, anxious, depressed and exploited. Persons reacting in this manner report feeling less able to cope with other aspects of life, feeling physically ill, and crying when they are alone. They are not able to stop thinking about the situation.

3. Anger and Aggression: jealousy can lead to aggressive communication, manipulation attempts and violent behaviours. (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1998) Those include becoming physically aggressive against and threatening either the other person or the partner or insisting that the partner not see the other person.

As Lazarus suggested, anger is one of the most prominent emotions in jealousy (Lazarus, 1994). Guerrero et al. (2001) report that the most frequent response to jealousy is physical violence. (Daly and Wilson 1996, Siegert & Stamp, 1994; Spitzberg 1998) This kind of reaction is more likely to occur within men than women. (Saltzman Chafetz, 1999)

4. Impression Management: on the one hand , this bipolar factor includes items like “I try to make the person think I don’t care and “I try to make my partner think I don’t care”, on the other hand it includes items like “ I get drunk or high”.

Women are more likely to react in the former style, men in the latter. (Bryson, 1991)

5. Reactive Retribution: this factor describes what people do to get even with their partner, like trying to make the partner jealous or exposing the partner in front of others.

6. Relationship Improvement: another coping style is to focus on the relationship more than before, for instance in terms of becoming more sexually active with the partner or trying to make oneself more attractive.

7. Monitoring: this coping behaviour includes questioning the partner about activities and demanding explanations for one’s partner’s activities or keeping an eye on the partner when the other person is around.

8. Intropunitiveness: this style includes feeling guilty or angry about being jealous and blaming oneself. Also, it includes resigning oneself to the enduring situation.

2.1.6 Sex Differences in Studies

Sex differences can be explained by different theories. Freud was convinced of a higher level of jealousy within women because of their penis envy and a higher degree of narcissistic libido; evolutionary theories argue that women are more prone to jealousy than men because they use this strategy to bind their mate to themselves in order to ensure their safety. Modern investigations show different results.

Sex-related differences in jealousy intensity have been studied in several surveys with dissimilar results depending on the nationality and time. In 1978, Teisman and Mosher classified two categories from openly conducted interviews: men reported being more jealous of sexual relationships. Women, on the other hand, are more jealous about the time and attention lavished on the third person. Correspondingly, Shackelford et al. (2002) found out that sexual infidelity is less important for women when it comes to deciding whether to leave the partner, than emotional infidelity.

Guerrero et al. (2004) supported these findings. In their American sample, the authors found that women respond with higher levels of jealousy in response to emotional jealousy invoking situations, whereas men react stronger in response to sexual ones. This lends some support to evolutionary theory assumptions. Furthermore their findings also related to expressive reactions of jealousy.

Other studies underlined that a sexual relationship is worse than an intimate relationship without sexual intercourse (Salovey and Rodin, 1988). American samples have shown that women are more worried about emotional infidelity thereby proving Guerrero et al. right, whereas men are more concerned with sexual infidelity (Buss et al., 1992). However, a study by Buunk et al. (1996) showed the reverse to be true for German male participants who indicated distress in the face of emotional infidelity.

Men tend to attribute more to the situation or the third person involved but less to their partner and negate their feelings of jealousy (Clanton & Smith 1977). Their tendency to leave the partner is also higher than women’s (Aronson & Pines, 1983)

Aronson and Pines (1983) stressed that women tend to suffer more from jealousy than do men in terms of physical reactions, feelings of indignation and emotional devastation. Also, women tend to search for the reasons of jealousy within themselves (White, 1981). Buunk (1981) found that women are more willing to admit to their jealousy but also that they tend to retreat from their partner and try to re-evaluate the situation. He argues that this reflects what has been expected from women for a long time in case of their partner’s infidelity: coping with it by themselves, not being too angry about it, not displaying jealousy, and waiting for him to come back and leave the other person.

From a societal point of view, it is important to take into account some facts connected to the double standard, which to this day applies when it comes to issues of infidelity and jealousy.

For men, being promiscuous is less sanctioned than it is for women because men are seen as having a higher sex drive and, at the same time being able to distinguish emotionality and sexuality better than women. By contrast, women are imputed to be incapable of this distinction and to have a much lower sex drive. Consequently, female jealousy is socially less accepted than male jealousy as women are supposed to know about the infidel traits of their partners and to thus regard an affair as not necessarily important to the partner. Male adepts of the double standard, on the other hand, can be expected to be more jealous, which could be proven by White (1981). In the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Disorders (DSM IV-TR), the diagnosis morbid jealousy, which used to be delusional jealousy, has been classified. It was found in more men (75%) than women (25%) (Zuimo, 2008)

On a societal level, these attitudes result, for example, in male jealousy being seen as more justifiable in court: jealousy as a reason for a “crime of passion” is a better justification for homicides than financial issues – for men. (Spitzberg, Cupach 1998)

2.2 Compersion

Our friends and loved ones want and expect us to be happy for them whenever they have accomplished something or been blessed with good fortune (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998). Instead of being envious or jealous and thereby spreading discomfort, some people just are happy for their loved ones. As soon as relationships are concerned, however, this rule no longer applies. Here the fact that some people do not respond with jealousy but are also just happy for their loved one also loving someone else is the exception and not at all accepted as a viable option by most.

‘Think, for example, about a man whose wife has just informed him that she has fallen in love with another man, and who says in response, “How wonderful for you, darling.”’ (Pines, 1998 p.13) According to jealousy literature, this kind of reaction is to be regarded as ‘pathological tolerance’, as a real threat to the relationship seems to be pathologically denied. (Pines, 1998) Moreover, it is socially more rewarded to show jealous behaviour than not to show it. (Pines, 1981). As people do exist, however, who do not feel jealous when their partner falls (or is) in love with someone else, but instead take their own pleasure in it, a look at this phenomenon not biased by an a priori belief in the assumptions underpinning jealousy has been long overdue. In recent years, a body of literature has emerged from the community of people practicing and propagating this alternative to jealousy and calling it compersion.

A link between jealousy and compersion can be drawn when alternative definitions of jealousy are also considered. As defined by Ulich & Mayring (1992), jealousy is understood as the passionate pursuit of exclusive possession of the emotional attention and care of the person to whom one relates accompanied by the fear of a real or a suspected rival. This definition includes two characteristics that are relevant to this study as they focus on:

1. Exclusive possession: this element centres on relationships with one partner (see section 2.4 relationship types)
2. Fear of the rival with elements of jealous feelings and coping styles as pointed out in section 2.1.5.

Anapol (1997) further distinguished the kinds and aspects of jealousy a polyamorous person has to deal with when being in a polyamorous relationship:

- Possessive jealousy is triggered by a perceived threat to the exclusive possession of the love object and is implicitly sanctioned by the society
- Exclusion jealousy is a jealousy of not being included within the new relationship. If the partner is dwelling too much in the new relationship, the other partner might feel left out and feels deprived of equal time and attention
- Competition jealousy lets people compare themselves with the other lover and feel inadequate.
- Ego jealousy designates a jealousy that could be related to as social undesirability. The person itself does live polyamorously but is afraid of the social environment’s judgments, especially if the other person is unattractive by comparison.
- The fear of being left for someone else defines fear jealousy. As Anapol (1997) points out, this mindset is very much influenced by the monogamous mindset where it is necessary to leave a partner “if someone better comes along”.

The construct of jealousy researched in psychology within a statistically valid and reliable framework mostly relates to sexual and emotional jealousy in the combination of possessive and fear jealousy. Therefore, those aspects of jealousy have been used in this study as well.

Within the polyamorous community, jealousy is seen as a learned reaction, a cultural programming that can be unlearnt and overcome. Anapol (1997) distinguishes two states that usually come together when talking about jealousy: one is the jealousy relating to the loss of a love object and the trust abuse happening when a love is concealed. Within a monogamous context, they intertwine because of the hidden character of “affairs”. As within a polyamorous relationship the loss of the partner to another person is usually no part of the network and the honest communication as essential ingredient lets people talk about their wishes, needs and anxieties, jealousy is seen as a marker emotion informing them about the need to grow within the relationship. As such, it is regarded as an emotion, which can be overcome.

2.2.1 Definition of Compersion

Compersion is often referred to as the antonym or “flip-side” of jealousy (Anapol, 1997). Even though at first sight, this seems a persuasively simple and clear way of defining compersion, there are several reasons, not to do so. First, defining a construct by another construct does not sufficiently characterise the construct itself. Second, it focuses on painful reactions and the negative feelings associated with jealousy instead of the positive feeling it really connotes, compersion being the term used for the experience of taking pleasure when one's partner is with another person. (Ravenscroft, 2004) An alternative definition would be the “positive feelings one gets when a lover is enjoying another relationship” (Hughes, 2002).

Compersion is a possible reaction after learning that the beloved partner is also intimate with someone else as well. Feelings of envy, anger, hatred, anxiety or sadness are replaced by feelings of shared joy, curiosity, zest and composure. (Rüther, 2005) Within non-traditional relationships, jealousy seems to be a lesser problem as the people involved in them consider emotional and sexual contacts with others as beneficial for their initial relationship instead of eroding it. (Clanton & Smith, 1977)

Interviews with people in polyamorous networks showed that compersion is made from different cognitions and feelings experienced in life, which make compersion a complex reaction to situations. A lot of them stressed that the actual feeling is a component equally strong as the love they initially felt for their partner. Klein and Anderlini-D’Onofrino (2004) point out that there is an “ecstatic calm, or ecstatic release” to it. Cognitions involved accepting other people’s love and being happy for the partner, as the partner would be for them.

The interviewed polyamorous people also underline that by acting compersive, their compersion grew. LeVay & McBride Valente (2007) define compersion as the knowledge that their partners are enjoying sexual relations with others. Therefore, compersion could be defined as a bundle of positive feelings, thoughts and reactions that occur, when a partner is enjoying another equitable relationship. It is usually accompanied by the consciousness that no partner can belong to anyone but him- or herself and that one’s own relationship to the partner is not endangered but nourished by the other relationship.

The cognitions, emotions and actions they reported when being compersive showed a complexity close to the coping processes in challenging events, compared to other people who judge the same situation as a threat and act jealously. In these, the interdependence of primary and secondary appraisal can be clarified and the person knows that a possible negative outcome can be overcome (Seiffge, 1995).

Klein & Anderlini-D’Onofrino (2004) defined compersion as “compassion for another person’s pleasure”. As a broad definition this might be interesting, but in the essence it is only one piece of the puzzle. Compassion usually focuses on “suffering or misfortune” (compassion, compassionate. (1966). In Random House Dictionary). A better term would be empathy as it accentuates the experience of another one’s feelings without the pejorative suffering in terms of feeling into it (empathy, empathic.(1966). In Random House Dictionary). Compersion transcends empathy by at least two components, too, however: the inner (sexual) participation or the ecstatic moment in compersion, i.e., a surplus of self actively felt and not just a passive understanding for the other person; and, secondly, the ability to appreciate the fact that another person can render one’s partner happy without this taking something away from oneself. Thus, a certain consciousness about not possessing the partner should be presupposed as part of what constitutes compersion.

In the context of compersion, fidelity is neither linked to cheating nor to sexually restricting the partner. It is not related to prohibitions, sworn oaths, signed contracts, conditions made, or to painful abstention. Instead, letting the partner have what he/she desires in relation to another partner can mean fidelity as well, because the persons involved are trustful and honest with one another, being open to themselves and to each other. They can share freely what they love, because they live in the knowledge that this does not take away anything from their relationship. (Harriet, 1994)

2.2.2 Coping Styles

As compersion has not yet been researched academically, coping styles of compersion have been gathered by semi-structured interviews with polyamorous singles and couples. The interviews comprised questions about the thoughts, feelings, and actions occurring to a person when confronted with a situation in which the partner flirted with and kissed someone else at a party or they asked about thoughts and feelings when the partner was with another partner. Cognitions entailed questions as “I hope this person is good/nice to my partner.” And “I hope s/he has fun.” Feelings included such as “Spontaneous happiness”, “lust for life” and “connectivity”. As coping and appraisal are interdependent, it is difficult to tell whether a person who does not mind the partner flirting copes differently with the situation or appraises it differently. On the action level “patiently waiting for being introduced” and “following own interests and conversations” were mentioned.

2.3 Close Relationships

A close relationship is defined by certain properties of the interaction occurring in it. According to Berscheid and Peplau (1983) a close relationship is a) dependant of the amount of mutual impact two people have on each other, b) dependant of a high interdependence between them. This interdependence is defined by seeing each other often and having a strong degree of impact every time they are together. Moreover in close relationships, the participants usually share diverse kinds of activities. Finally, all of these characteristics are true for a relatively long duration of time. Within close relationships there can be different implicit and explicit rules regarding sexual, cognitive, intimate or emotional exclusivity. These rules in turn account for the different levels of openness within the various types of relationship. (Buunk, 1981)

Even though the Berscheid and Peplau definition refers to two people who are in a close relationship, it does not necessarily imply that those two live in an exclusive relationship or that it is impossible to have several close relationships at the same time.

2.4 Relationship Types

2.4.1 Monogamous Relationships

Monogamy is defined as a relationship, in which one person has one spouse at a time. Within western influenced societies, serial monogamy, designating changing partners one stays commited to until the relationship is over, is still the most preferred relationship type (Peluso, 2007). It consists of exclusivity regarding the romantic components of love, intimacy, trust and sex, and is based on the wish for the current partner to stay the only one. Moreover it implies being the only future mate for the partner and showing a long-term commitment to him/her. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008)

Young modern relationships often happen via a pattern of almost fortuitously hooking up and starting a relationship, of quickly being on the verge of, or actually moving in together, and very often breaking up shortly afterwards. After the split-up, there is often a phase of getting even with the partner. These patterns tend to breed sexual jealousy and lead to higher levels of domestic violence and suffering. Whereas marriage used to be seen as a rite of passage to become a responsible member of a family, today’s pubescent mating strategies of not being pinned down to one partner and not wanting to commit oneself repeat themselves over and over. Lower commitment leads to cheating, and to lying about it, which in turn breeds mistrust, or results in violence. Young women, after breaking up with their boyfriend because of someone else, are especially prone to being victimised by this kind of domestic violence. (Magnet, 2001)

As there is a strong bias towards monogamous relationships, there are salient reasons to choose monogamy. First, the loyalty of an exclusive relationship fosters a sense of deep intimacy within the couple. Second, sexual satisfaction with one partner ensures that the two partners involved know how to give and take whatever they consider satisfying. Third, the long-term commitment is seen as a chance to keep the level of the initially satisfying sex life. Fourth, sexual fidelity often implies a “specialness” of the relationship. Fifth, within the western culture, there is an unequivocal norm of sexual exclusivity finding its material manifestation in marriage. (Peluso, 2007)

2.4.2 Polygamous Relationships

Polygamy refers to relationships of people leading multiple marriages and usually refers to relationships with a centre that is either male or female and sexually opposite satellites. The multiple marriages usually refer to a person or subject of one sex marrying several partners of another sex. There are three different kinds of polygamy: polyandry, where one woman is married to several husbands, polygyny, where one man is married to several wives and group marriage, in which several husbands are married to several wives.

Whereas 85% of societies wish to live polygamously, it is a form of relationship being practiced mostly (in polygamous societies) with rich or powerful men in the centre. (Koktvedgaard Zeitzen, 2008)

As polyamory is often quoted as a form of polygamy, it has to be stated that polyamory usually refers to networks of loves and lovers with no centre and usually no marriage. Polyamory refers to romantic or sexual relationships involving several partners, regardless of the status of marriage and is defined by negotiation rather than marriage.

2.4.3 Links between Polygamy and Monogamy

During the workshop “Monogamy: Partnerships in Birds, Humans and other Mammals” in Leipzig 2001, evidence was presented that monogamy is by no means a wide spread relationship type within mammals: 3% of all species live monogamous. Within primates 7% live monogamously, among birds, on the other hand, it is the preferred type of relationship.

Socially monogamous species do not necessarily live sexually allegiant to one partner: especially female apes, other mammals and birds, living in socially monogamous relationships, search for other copulation partners from time to time. Surprisingly, in especially rigorous monogamous species of sparrows, the percentage of foreign offspring was twice as high as within sparrow species where polygynous breeding was allowed. Within our own species, 17% of all 560 listed societies call themselves socially monogamous. (Reichard, 2002)

144 of 144 pages


Jealousy and Compersion in Close Relationships
Coping Styles by Relationship Types
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Psychologisches Institut)
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ISBN (Book)
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Beziehung, Eifersucht, Mitfreude, Polyamory, Polyamorie, offene Beziehungen, Beziehungszufriedenheit, Need for affect, State & Trait, close relationship, jealousy, compersion, open relationships, relationship satisfaction
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Ulrike Duma (Author), 2009, Jealousy and Compersion in Close Relationships, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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