Poly for Dummies; do's and don'ts
By Brian Frederick

Tell the Truth.
Lasting relationships are built on honesty. Honesty isnít hard and it gets to be a habit. Bite the bullet, tell the truth. If your relationship canít weather it, you are in the wrong relationship; but it probably can. Telling the truth is easier than lying, all rumor and myth to the contrary. Lies are a lot of work. They weigh you down and isolate you. Small lies get lonely and seek out bigger lies.

Donít ask one lover to lie or keep secrets from others. Secrets breed distrust. Secrets build walls and discourage intimacy. Know the difference between privacy and secrecy.

Resist the desire to Ďprotectí someone by telling them what you think they want to hear. "Especially do not feign affection." If youíre not sure about love, say so. If your relationships are not a high priority in your life, let people know. Encourage honesty in others. Above all, be honest with yourself. Are you looking to build a family or for a little sexual variety?

Fear is usually what prevents honesty. Make it safe for people to tell their truth.

Know Yourself.
This is the most important tool and sometimes the hardest to find. Spend quality time with yourself and find out what youíre like. Most people never do. Learn to tell when you are moody or unreasonable or defensive or hyper-sensitive or blinded by New Relationship Energy. Know your limits. If you are not able to be a good friend or lover to someone, tell them. Discover where you could do better. Learn whatís healthy for you and whatís not. Learn when to take a walk and cool off; grown-ups need time-outs too. Figure out what your priorities really are and live by. If your life doesnít reflect your priorities, change your life, not your priorities and today, not in some better future.

Many people never see the consistent patterns in their own behavior that are obvious to everyone else, like always pursuing the same type of lover or acting just like their father did. They are blind to themselves. What donít you know about yourself? You can transform your addictions into a preferences and eventually into a choices, but first you have to know about them.

Take time to discover things like: what baggage are you carrying from your childhood or your last relationship, what do you need and what do you only want, what pushes your buttons and why, how are you still growing up, which things are you willing to compromise on, what are your core motivations, what makes you jealous or insecure or competitive, at what point are you over-extending yourself, what are your patterns, strengths and weaknesses, etc. A lot of this goes back to honesty.

Take Care of Yourself.
Work on you. "Grow your own garden in your own soul, donít wait for someone else to bring you flowers." Instead of looking to other people for validation or satisfaction or happiness, learn to make it yourself. This is a vitally important skill for living, not just relationships. You will always be at someoneís mercy - until you learn to satisfy your own needs. Once you do, you gain a freedom and confidence that can never be taken away. You can meet people as equals and choose to enjoy life together instead of carefully exchanging needs in a scarcity-driven emotional economy. Ironically, a person with this kind of independence is very attractive. (Just when we donít need it. Thanks.)

Take time by yourself to think about what you need to work on and give yourself the space to do it. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, like yourself, love yourself, accept yourself, forgive yourself, respect yourself, serve yourself, nurture yourself, just be yourself and please, sharpen a knife and cut yourself some slack. Everyone is too hard on themselves. Everyoneís mirrors are warped. Yours are too; learn to compensate. Learn emotional first aid. Get your own shit together. Be number one in your life. Deal with your childhood/parent issues; if you donít bury your ghosts, theyíll bury you. Your relationship with yourself is the foundation of all others.

Take Responsibility.
Own your feelings. No one can make you sad or angry or happy, they are your emotions. They exist in your head and nowhere else. You own them. You. There are always choices. Accept that sometimes you are going to feel good or bad for no reason at all - not because of the people or events in your life. When you make someone else accountable for your feelings, your disempower yourself.

Playing the victim or martyr is just a way to manipulate people. To say, "I hurt you because my parents hurt me", is to surrender your life to other people and to the past. Be here now. Take charge of your own feelings and actions and life. You are responsible for seeing that your own needs get met. (Yes, even your sexual needs.) Donít tell other people "do me, make me happy, protect me, save me." Learn to take care of yourself.

Relationships take work. If there are problems in one of your relationships or if your life is a mess, stand up and carry your share of the responsibility (and no more), even if you donít think you deserve it. Taking responsibility is not taking blame, itís taking control. Remember leaving home. As you take more responsibility over your life, you have more freedom, not less.

Encourage Growth.
Remember to care about your lovers as human beings. Itís surprisingly easy to forget. Support them in advancing their careers, spiritual pursuits, educations and ambitions. At their own pace and in their own way. Help them to heal and understand themselves better. Encourage them to take time by themselves and give them the space they need. Help them cultivate strength. Ask them to do the same for you but tell them how; they canít read your mind. One way to encourage growth is to give those you love the freedom to love others.

Some people find neediness and weakness very attractive. Maybe they think theyíll be abandoned if their loved ones become strong. They might try to keep people weak and needy so theyíll stay. They might give generously but with conditions and strings attached. This is not unconditional love - it may not be love at all - it might just be aggressive need.

Growth can be stunted by difficult emotions like insecurity or fear of abandonment. One way to manage a limiting emotion is to meet it head on. "The only way out - is through." Donít hide from it; that just gives it power. Dive in and weather it and survive it and examine it. Your fear is far worse than reality. Learn that and the emotion loses its power and you grow stronger. You can even use emotions like jealousy, insecurity, etc. to learn about yourself. Pay attention to them, they are valuable.

Respect is for equals. Honor peopleís limits and boundaries. Listen when someone says Ďnoí. Demand the same. Never tolerate abuse of any kind. You deserve better. Be polite to your partners, they deserve it more than anyone in your life.

Itís too easy to take partners for granted. Make commitments for a limited time and not for a lifetime. "Will you marry me for another year?" It helps you stay aware. Try not to save all your best stuff for one partner and exclude other partners, especially when they are together. Treat them evenly or someone will feel slighted. Words like "best", "most" and "favorite" force comparisons and make people compete and make someone lose. Find a way for everyone to win.

Respect relationships as well as people. Think of each relationship as a separate entity. It could be healthy or sick. It has a natural shape; donít try to force it to be something else. Find out what is it and let it be just that. Resist the desire to use a relationship to get your head in order; a lover is not a life raft. If you need therapy, see a doctor.

Itís easy to project your expectations onto other people. "Maybe theyíll change." Donít try to force a person to be someone they are not. People are package deals; accept them for who they are, good and bad, or donít accept them at all.

If you want respect, keep your word. Keep to the spirit of your agreements; donít squabble over semantics looking for loop-holes to exploit. When you make an agreement in the kitchen, keep it in the bedroom.

If you want healthy relationships, strong communication skills are a necessity, not a luxury. Trouble usually starts when talking stops. Things come up all the time that have to be worked through patiently and lovingly, even when youíre having a bad day. It gets easier over time, but it takes work and a willingness to break up scar tissue and tear down walls. Communication skills are what make a person a great lover or a dud.

Arguing skills are not communication skills. Arguing better than someone doesnít make you right, it just makes you better at arguing. Some people strive to Ďwiní an argument at all cost - even if it costs them their marriage.

Listening is more important than talking. And harder. Listen actively and donít just hear. Make eye contact. Be here now, donít wander. Paraphrase their words to see if you heard them right. Notice your own words and feelings as you listen. Listen to unhappy feelings without needing to fix them. Listen to disagreements without taking sides. Listen to non-verbal communication, which usually speaks more clearly than words. Be aware of how the people in your life are loving you.

Some talk is not communication. If you get lost in the woods and pass the same landmark several times, you are making the same mistake over and over. Raising your voice or speaking harshly makes you harder to understand, not easier. Avoid saying "always" and "never" is disagreements; they just dig up the past and revive old mistakes. Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements. "I think youíre wrong" is easier to accept than "you are wrong."

Express yourself clearly; people canít read your mind. Learn to ask for what you want. Tear down the wall between your feelings and your words. If you set limits and boundaries, communicate them. Make sure everyone knows what they are getting into. Learn how to defuse arguments. If necessary, learn how and when to say goodbye. Actions communicate better than words. Show people that you love them. Share kindness and affection and laughter. And when in doubt, rub their feet.

Attitude. Having tools isnít enough, you have to really want to use them. Ya gotta wanna. Your disposition will make it work or blow it at any time. Find a way for everyone to win. Make important decisions unanimous. Donít go to sleep angry; talk it out. Shine a positive light on difficult situations too; many relationships wither from negative energy. Try not to turn little problems into big ones. Look for solutions, not someone to blame. Be direct, not covert. Practice tolerance, patience, flexibility, generosity, understanding, forgiveness. Learn to apologize. Laugh at yourself.

Be wrong; you canít learn from mistakes if you always gotta be right. Let it go; be happy instead. Listen more than you talk. Give someone else the last word. Take the high road. See things through their eyes; empathy is the cure for anger. Stay calm and remember to breath. Let down your walls, trust, open up, risk and let yourself be vulnerable. Without vulnerability there is no intimacy. Emphasize friendship over romance. Take your time. Savor what you have instead of dwelling on what you donít have. Practice truly unconditional love. Share. Learn.