Conversations with Marie Thouin about Compersion
What if jealousy isn't the only natural response to relationships outside of two people? In our eye-opening conversation with Dr. Marie Thouin, a mindful dating and relationship coach and a leading researcher on compersion, we discover an alternative - a feeling of joy and happiness when a partner experiences joy and happiness from another relationship. From Marie's unique upbringing and her parents' creative approach to relationships to her groundbreaking research and the book she's preparing on compersion, we explore the history of this fascinating concept and the six categories of factors that can promote or hinder its development.
The LGBTQ movement has paved the way for more flexibility in relationship norms, challenging mononormativity and shedding light on the power of compersion. We delve into the individual, relational, and social factors that can foster compersion and emphasize the importance of self-care in cultivating and sustaining it. For those struggling to embrace this transformative emotion, Marie shares valuable tips like understanding our personal and social ecosystems and seeking support outside our relationships.
Marie's coaching approach is tailored to unpack the bottlenecks that may be blocking us from experiencing compersion. Through her transformative 8-week program, individuals can identify and shift the programming that keeps them stuck, leading to profound changes in their lives. Dr. Marie Thouin also offers a free 30-minute clarity call to help uncover any obstacles to fulfilling relationships. Join us in this enlightening conversation and learn how embracing compersion can create more fulfilling relationships and bring deep love and fulfillment into your life.
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Carrie Jeroslow (CJ): Welcome to the Relationship Diversity Podcast, where we celebrate, question and explore all aspects of relationship structure diversity, from solaramary to monogamy to polyamory and everything in between, because every relationship is as unique as you are. We'll bust through societal programming to break open and dissect everything we thought we knew about relationships, to ask the challenging but transformational questions who am I and what do I really want in my relationships? I'm your guide, Carrie Jeroslow. Bestselling author, speaker, intuitive and coach. Join me as we reimagine all that our most intimate relationships can become. Today's episode is part of our conversation series. I'm just one voice in this relationship diversity movement and it's important to bring more unique perspectives into the conversation. Today I'll be talking with Dr Marie Thouin all about the concept of compersion. We touch on what it is, its history and the six categories of factors that can promote or hinder the experience of compersion within relationships. But first a little about Marie. Dr Marie Thouin is the founder of Love Insight, a mindful dating and relationship coaching practice where she helps people of all ages, genders, sexual and relationship orientations navigate the path of intimate love. She's a leading scholar and researcher on the topic of compersion in consensually non-monogamous relationships and completed her PhD on compersion on the topic. Her work has been featured in several publications and podcasts. She shares her research on her website and is in the process of preparing a groundbreaking book on compersion. Let's get into the conversation.
CJ: Hello everyone and welcome to this episode of Relationship Diversity Podcast. I have got an incredible guest for you today. Today, we're talking to Dr. Marie Thouin, who is a mindful dating and relationship coach. She is also one of the top researchers on the topic of compersion. If you don't know what compersion is, stay tuned. I have not talked a lot about this, surprisingly, on this podcast, because I think I've been waiting for you, Dr. Marie, to talk all about it. I want to say one thing as to why I'm so excited about this conversation is because, as I know, Dr. Marie will talk about compersion and what it is. It is talked about a lot in the nonmonogamous communities. However, this idea of compersion is such a life skill that, if learned, will really transform all of your relationships Intimate, familial, business, friendships. It really there is so much power in this concept. With that, welcome, marie. I'm so happy to have you here.
Marie Thouin (MT): Thank you, Carrie. This is so fun to be here. Such an honor. I love your podcast.
CJ: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. The way I like to start all of these conversations is for everyone to learn more about you, and what was your journey to get you to the place of being so interested in the topic of compersion so that you did your whole thesis and became an expert in this. Tell us a little bit about your work.
MT: Yeah, thank you Really. I think it started very early in my life. My interest in non-normative relationships are just different ways of thinking about love and relationships. Because my parents were very creative in their approach to relationships. They decided that they wanted to have a child without cohabitating and without being a traditional couple or a nuclear family Right away. I grew up with two parents who were independent thinkers and I would go one week at my mom's, one week at my dad's. I learned that we were not really part of the norm, but that it was feasible and okay to not be part of the norm. I think that set me up with that mindset.
CJ: What year is that? if you don't mind me asking, were you born? I'm just curious.
MT: Yeah, I was born in 1984.
CJ: Okay, that was a long time ago. They were absolutely paving their own path Exactly.
MT: They were able to pick and choose what they really wanted from life and from love. And they knew they didn't want marriage. They knew they didn't want cohabitation, but they wanted love and intimacy and parenting. They were able to be very intentional. This was Quebec, you know rural Quebec. This was not California. This was not the Bay Area. This was really weird for people.
CJ: Wow, but you grew up with it. Did it feel like just a normal thing for you, or when did you realize that this was maybe not what everyone did?
MT: Well, I think when I started going to school and people you know, like my kids, colleagues you know in school, would be like, oh yeah, like my parents are divorced. I understand, you know, like I'm I have the same setup and I would be like, no, like my parents are not divorced, They were never married. Um, so I started realizing like no one really had the same setup And, yeah, like I felt like I was different and I was kind of outside of a paradigm that was the shared understanding of how relationships should be And that continued on actually through, you know, high school and college, when I started having my own romantic feelings and relationships and crushes. Um, and realizing that monogamy didn't come naturally to me or that was not something I would have just assumed, But people assumed it. People felt like, okay, well, if I'm in one relationship, that means I can't explore any others, And of course, we kind of take that for granted in our society growing up. But it always felt weird to me.
MT: I was like why are we making that assumption?
MT: I think I can love or like or interact sexually with more than one person And to me there isn't an inherent contradiction. So why, you know like so I felt different and I had to constantly contrast, you know like my, my desire to fit in and be normal and be accepted, with what felt like my authentic self, and how interesting that is and how painful that is when you feel like you have to choose between belonging and authenticity.
CJ: Yes, Yes, Wow. So what was that journey? And I can see how that contributes to how you got to where you are. What was that journey from? you know juggling the desire to want to be accepted, especially I think that's very normal as a teenager, You know, I have my own story about that. But and balancing that with your true self, like what did that journey look like?
MT: Well, it looked like a lot of anger at the beginning. It looked like feeling like I had to rebel and I had to be at odds with society and odds with the world. And you know, and in order not to be just at odds with myself, you know, it felt like I had to choose, like, am I going to be, you know, at odds with myself and try to mold myself into something different, or am I going to be at odds with the world? And thankfully, you know, I think in my teenage years I actually decided to be at odds with the world. And I'm saying thankfully, because I think that's maybe an easier thing to undo than when you're training yourself to be at odds with yourself. I mean, both of those things are problematic for sure, right, but being at odds with the world helped me feel like, okay, I can carve my own path. I will carve my own path, I'm going to give up on fitting in.
MT: I'm just not going to try anymore because that doesn't work for me. So that comes with a lot of anger, a lot of resentment at the world. Of course that's a painful stance to take. But then later on, when I finally started finding my people and communities of you know, people that I really felt connected with and could accept me how I was, that helped create a journey of healing and eventually feeling like, okay, I don't want to be at odds with the world. I mean, the world is, you know, it's not perfect And we all somehow at some level have experiences of feeling estranged from the world. It's not a unique pain that.
MT: I have I think we all kind of relate to that And people who are so-called more mainstream, who have different relationships with the world and with life. And why don't I try to bring love and connection and more congruence in the fact that, you know, this is a weird world? We all have our own relationship with the norms and with what's expected of us and with society, and we all react to it differently, but ultimately we're in the same boat. And let's bring love here.
CJ: Yeah, yeah, and I really believe that most people feel like an outsider at some point in their lives And finding community is such a key into starting to feel a part of something, starting to not feel so different. We all do have our unique experiences And I talk about that a lot in this podcast Like we've all had a unique past that has led us to this unique point in our lives and who we are. But finding other people who have similar interests or lifestyles is incredibly helpful. So how did that lead you into your studies and your work?
MT: Mm-hmm, good question. So I knew that human relationships were kind of my personal bottleneck in life, where, you know, i felt the most pain, the most betrayal, the most conflict, and I really wanted to figure it out because that's also the thing I wanted the most, you know. I wanted real intimacy, real authentic connection.
MT: So I had to really teach myself, with the help of others of course friends and mentors along the way how to reconnect with my ability to love other human beings from an authentic place And I think that journey of you know, feeling really lonely in the world, feeling at odds with people, and then kind of teaching myself how to connect, since it was a learned skill, I was really kind of awakened to my ability to teach others, right, you know, sometimes when it comes naturally you don't really even think about it so you can't really teach it. But the things I had to learn the most were the things I can. I could then articulate and talk about that journey of finding our own authenticity within. You know, a world that has norms and how do we go outside the norm? You know, how do we carve our own path, how do we be creative?
MT: in our ability to have relationships In the realm of romance. There's so much normativity, there's so much expectation, there's such a default path that we're all taught is the one path we should take, this kind of heteronormative, mononormative relationship path, like the relationship escalator, which is that idea that you meet, you know, boy meets girl. They go on days, they kiss, and then they have sex and then they become exclusive and then they start thinking about marriage and cohabitation and then they have children. And there's this path that we associate with more love, more commitment, more success more validation Right.
MT: You know there's this whole system that we fall into and I mean it's not a one size fits all, it doesn't work for everyone And you know, thankfully, the LGBTQ movement has, you know, kind of showed everyone like, okay, this is not the only way to be that heteronormativity has been questioned and you know, it's not, it's not everywhere in the world where it is accepted now to be outside of that, but the LGBTQ movement has carved the path. But I always felt like mononormativity, the idea that monogamy is the only way to love, is kind of the next really big problem that people are not looking at.
CJ: I agree 100% with you about that.
MT: Cool Yeah.
CJ: Yeah, and it is. I found that many times, and actually regardless of what relationship structure I was deciding to be in, that if I took this box that says I am only you know, i am only doing this right which is keyword if I do it in this way led me feeling like I just wasn't doing anything right. And what you were talking about is about carving your own path. It is scary, I think, to do that, and at the same time, it can be very freeing to be super creative, to say who am I, what do I want? just like your parents did. What great role models. They were way ahead of their time in how they designed what worked for them. I love that. So how did you get into? what I would love to move into is your study with compersion. Can you define that so that we are on the same playing field? We all understand where you're coming from with it? And then let's talk more about some of the things that you found in your research.
MT: Absolutely Yeah, and I'll premise that with saying that the reason why I think studying compersion is so important is that it directly has an impact on dismantling mononormativity, because a lot of mononormativity, which is this assumption that monogamy is the only valid way to love, is based on another assumption, and that assumption is that jealousy is the only natural or valid response to relationships outside of two people. Yes, Yes.
MT: So if we assume that jealousy is the only outcome of nonmonogamy, then of course we're going to create a social system that's based on compulsory monogamy. But if we start documenting the fact that there are other emotional responses, and namely compersion, which is the idea that you can feel positive things and experience positive attitudes in relation to your partner's other intimate relationships, a lot of people say like, oh no, that's impossible. But no, I mean, I'm studying it. There's a lot of people who do feel that, who do experience that, and that kind of dismantles the whole system really, because we're showing that. Okay, no, there's not just one way to feel about this.
CJ: Right, so in your studies. I'm curious for people who compersion is more natural. What are some of the characteristics of these people where they think that that's just natural for them to be really excited for their partner to have a wonderful experience with someone else other than them? What are those people like?
MT: So what I found is that there are categories of factors that do promote compersion And there are categories of factors that hinder the possibility of compersion. And it's not just about a personality type. It's really a contextual set of factors that depend on someone's individuality and it depends on someone's relationships and it depends on someone's community surroundings. Okay So there's individual factors, relational factors and social factors, And there are six factors altogether. I'll name them all.
MT: So in the individual category, there is the mindset. There's the ideological commitment to non-monogamous values and mindsets. So if someone is actually on board with non-monogamy, rather than someone who's been just dragged into it by their partner, someone who actually feels like, oh yes, I actually want to be non-monogamous because I do believe in sexual and emotional autonomy because I really do believe that I don't want to control my partner And I really want diversity of experiences for myself and for them. It really comes from a true desire then they're going to have more likely to experience a lot of compersion.
MT: The second factor is security within oneself. The more secure you feel within yourself, the more self-confident, the better your self-esteem and the better your self-care as well. The more resourced you are, then also the more likely you are to feel compersion. Again, it's not like a binary, it's not like, oh, you either don't feel it or you feel it. You know like it can fluctuate. You might feel a comparison certain days and then certain days you don't. I just want to also say that, because it's not an on or off switch.
CJ: Right. There's fluidity in it and circumstances and where you are. And I love the thing that you talk about self-care, because sometimes when I am not as good with my self-care, I do have daily self-care, but when I'm stretched thin, my ability to be happy for my partner is not there as much And it gives me pause to say what am I missing, what am I not filling within myself? So that's absolutely right.
MT: And then, moving on to the relational factors, security within the relationship. So if you feel really secure in your relationship with a partner, you're going to most likely experience more compersion when they are going out and dating someone else, rather than if you feel like, well, your relationship is on the rocks and it's not totally connected and you don't feel totally safe or seen.
CJ: Yes, i've seen that in people I work with and myself. Yes, absolutely.
MT: And then there is your connection with the metamores, who?
MT: are your partner's other partners And actually subsequent research has shown that this might be the most impactful factor of all. If you feel that your metamore, the person that your partner is dating, is someone who adds to the plate, is good for your partner, is supportive of your relationship, is someone who is you know, someone, maybe you can even relate to or at least respect, without feeling overly threatened by them. There's kind of this sweet spot of like I like you, i respect you, but I don't think you're so much better than me that you provoke my feeling threatened and feeling less than Then I'm going to have more compersion because all of a sudden maybe also I care about you, my metamore. I don't just care about my partner, i'm actually happy for both of you and your happiness together.
CJ: Yes, and just I'm going to just give a shout out to my metamore because I really do feel that And I was just talking with my husband the other day about that of how supportive she is of my relationship and my family and definitely gives me a sense of security. All that you just said 100% agree with that, yeah.
MT: Awesome, I love that. And then the third relational factor is the perception of benefits received from the other part. You know your partner's other relationships, so if you feel that you're benefiting in some way, like, oh, because my partner is leading this other person, that gives me the freedom to go date someone else as well, or it alleviates the pressure that I might have felt to fulfill all of my partner's needs, yep, it gives me the feeling that, oh, I can live my life in integrity and full authenticity. Like, yes, it's possible, we're transcending the old paradigm together.
MT: That's another vector of compersion Being proud and exalted and relieved from having to maybe be less than authentic in the way we love.
MT: Yes. So maybe also, like you know, my partner dating another person is making our sex life or our love life better because it's bringing this fresh air and fresh energy. So anything that you can pinpoint of like oh, wow, like yeah, that's actually a benefit to me and to us and to our relational ecosystem is going to promote compersion.
CJ: Yeah, wow, that is all really powerful And there's so much there. I've heard this before and I'm curious what you think about, about. I know you talked a little bit about jealousy as one emotional, you know feeling, or, and then compersion. I hear people talk about jealousy as the opposite of compersion, compersion the opposite of jealousy, and I don't know that. I agree with that, but I'm curious, with your expertise, what you think about that.
MT: So I definitely will say that compersion and jealousy can coexist. I would call them antonyms rather than opposites, because opposites sometimes will imply like well, you can't have both at the same time, They're mutually exclusive. But it's not true. It's a little bit like feeling bittersweet feeling, you know, sad and happy at the same time. I know, that we can have those emotions that are you know, like opposite or antonymical to each other.
MT: We can have them at the same time, and oftentimes that's what people in nonmonogamous relationships do express. It's like they don't ever come to a point where there's no jealousy ever. It's usually more of a spectrum where maybe they feel more and more compersion and less and less jealousy.
MT: Or, you know, their jealousy is just maybe something in the background, but it doesn't really impact their relationship and it doesn't really impact their behavior.
MT: And I also want to come back to the definition of compersion, because I think it's important to note that it's not only an emotion. Compersion can also be an attitude or a set of actions and even thoughts. I actually had the privilege to co-author an encyclopedia definition of compersion recently, and me and my co-author, dr Sharon Flicker, who also conducts compersion research, we came to the conclusion that there were three different definitions of compersion, and I think this speaks to, you know, the ability of human beings to have compersion and jealousy at the same time. So the first definition was it's an emotion. It's like a range of positive emotions that we can feel in regards to our partner's other intimate relationships. But then the second definition was the range of attitudes, thoughts and actions that are positive in connection to our partners and our relationships. And then the third one was the range of experiences that are positive and reactions to somebody else's positive experiences. So taking it out of the realm of non-monogamy and bringing it into a wider set of contexts.
CJ: Yeah, because I think that that's what I was kind of referring to at the very beginning, because you know that kind of experience of jealousy, you know it can be in friendships, it can be in business. you know you see someone who is in the same business as you and you're, you know you become competitive and jealous instead of working together to be excited for what they're doing, and so it can lead in so many different types of relationship. And I do have a question. I suppose maybe you could have started with this, but trusting that the conversation is perfect. And that is the history of the word compersion. Where did that word come from?
MT: Yes, it was coined in the 70s in an intentional community in San Francisco called Carista, and they were a polyamorous community and they were, you know, really centering free love as their main you know reason for being together, and experimenting around that. And they realized that they were feeling this feeling of compersion, but they didn't have a word for it And they were just like, oh my gosh, like it gives me such joy to know that my partner is happy with someone else. So they the legend goes that they took out an alphabet board which is kind of like a Ouija board, oh yeah, and an intuitive divination tool to create a word, and compersion is what came through And it caught on. It caught on the poly communities and has just been used since then because, yeah, there is no other word to really mean that.
CJ: I love that. Whether it's true or not, I love that story. That's fabulous. So another question I have is let's say, someone is really wanting to embrace more compersion in their life, but they're really struggling. It is one tip that you can give them to start on a journey of embracing more compersion in their mind, body, spirit.
MT: Well, really, I would say I don't fight the bottlenecks Because my philosophy of comparison, the way I see it, is that it's a beautiful experience that would be natural to us if we didn't have a bunch of blocks to it, if we didn't have a bunch of bottlenecks, so to speak. And for some people, the bottleneck is more at the relational level. With some people, the bottleneck is more at the mindset level. For some people maybe it's more at the personal sense of security level. With some people it's just that their relationship contacts don't lend themselves very well to it. For example, if their partner is dating someone else that they feel is not a good influence or is not really adding and is maybe, I don't know maybe if we feel like your partner is dating someone who's toxic, it's going to be really hard to feel comparison.
MT: So I think first it's kind of assessing what is going on in my relational ecosystem, including what's going on in my own personal ecosystem and also in my social ecosystem, And I also go finding support from people outside of our relationship to kind of really validate that identity as non-monogamous. That's also very, very important to not feel isolated in a big mono-enormative world and feeling like you're the weird one and you don't have any support or anyone else who's going to reassure you and normalize your feelings.
CJ: Right, which is, I think, why working with someone like you would be incredible, because I can just feel that if someone came to you and started expressing all of this, you would help them to feel okay with their feelings And sometimes, when there's someone in your corner allowing you to feel all the feelings, it starts to move that bottleneck right. You start to then become aware of things that are hidden underneath layers that you're scared to access or maybe unable to access. So how do you work with people in your coaching? How is your coaching, I guess, laid out? How do you? I know you have a 30-minute intro call to kind of assess things, but lead us through how you work.
MT: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, and it's very individualized. I don't have a cookie-cutter approach because everyone is on a different path and it's really important to me to get to the sticky issues as quickly as possible. And of course I like to understand someone's whole world and understand who they are and what's going on. But really we start there, we start with just getting to know each other a little bit And then I give an assessment of what I might see are the bottlenecks for them.
MT: I might see things that might not be obvious for them because maybe they feel ashamed of their situation or they're just kind of caught up in the emotion. So really, number one is taking away the shame and taking away the self-judgment and just normalizing, like, okay, well, this is your situation, let's bring love and compassionate witnessing there, but then really identifying what are the sticky points, what do we need to focus on? And yeah, for some people it's going to be mindset or the inner sense of self-love or self-care. So for some people it's going to be more relational and maybe in some cases I ask, like, can you see if your partner might want to come and do some couples counseling, because it's more of a relational issue, right? Or if their partner is not available to join, then maybe I'll work with them to create new patterns with their partner. So it really depends, we just really focus in on what needs more love, attention, tools, skills, et cetera.
CJ: Right, and I think that people can definitely go on the journey on their own and working with someone like Marie can really get you there faster And, by the reflection that you provide to your clients, will help you bust through the things that are holding you back much quicker. So with that, marie, how can people connect with you?
MT: Yeah Well, I have two different websites. For folks who are really interested in compersion, I would definitely recommend going to whatiscompersion.com, and I have all of my research available for free and other really great resources and a blog and also information about my coaching and a link to book a free intro 30-minute session with me so we can do a vibe check and see if we want to work together.
MT: And I also work a lot with singles who are in the dating realm or want to date or maybe afraid of dating, or just you know, I do dating coaching for anyone who's into growth, into self-knowing, into mindfulness, and you can learn more about that niche, that side of my practice, at loveinsight-datingcom Beautiful, and I talk about both of these topics on my Instagram page, which is love underscore insight, underscore dating. So please follow me on Instagram and let's connect.
CJ: Yes. So if she described you and who she works with and how you can work with her, please connect. And definitely your Instagram has a wealth of information, so we'll link all of that in the show notes And this has been a really enlightening conversation for me and, I know, for everyone listening. So thank you so much, marie, for sharing your wisdom And everyone. Please go and connect with her. You will learn so much on the daily. Thank you, marie. Thank you so much.
CJ: New episodes are released every Thursday. Stay connected with me through my website, kerryjarrislowcom, instagram or TikTok. Stay curious.
CJ: Every relationship is as unique as you are. Are you feeling stuck or unfulfilled in your intimate relationship? Do all your relationships end in the same way? Do you feel like you've lost the spark in your current relationship? Can you never even find one person who you want to explore a relationship with? If you answered yes to any of those questions, or sick and tired of feeling like a failure in your relationships and desperately desire different experience, then my 8-week deep reprogramming intensive may be the answer for you. In this program, I work individually with you for 8 transformative weeks. We'll identify the subconscious programming that's keeping you stuck and shift it to a new, affirming belief system. We go deep, we get real, we get results. This is healing unlike anything you've ever experienced before.
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