Dating is rough for a lot of people. I am no exception. There is so much stress, drama and awkwardness. And a lot of that stress we bring on ourselves due to our own expectations, values and assumptions. One of those assumptions that complicates dating is based on an otherwise very useful rational thought:

“If something is not working, then you need to change what you are doing.”

Trial and error for short. If we want something to work, then we keep trying until we make it work. This results in persistence, problem solving, adaptability and a whole host of useful character traits. It is the way we should approach most problems in our lives. However, I find that this attitude is often a cause of problems when it comes to dating and relationships.

Now, please bear in mind that like most pieces of wisdom, this one is not a 100% rule, but just a part of the puzzle to keep in mind. Of course relationships take work, persistence and adaptability. However, my point here is that people get so focused on making relationships work they sometimes forget to ask if they should be making it work. A sign of healthy relationships is that they make you a better person. But if you have to change or hide fundamental aspects of who you are, then maybe you are not in the right relationship.

Let me just go ahead and share my experience. I was a nerdy teen in the 90’s before sci-fi and video games were as mainstream as they are now. Back then, “nerd” and “geek” used to be far more of an insult than a description of your taste in media. I was also distinctly under the impression that most girls did not like those things at all. It doesn’t matter if that belief was right or wrong, it still limited me. And so I thought, if I want to find a girlfriend, then I need to hide those things about me to improve my chances of finding a girl. Sure, writing about those assumptions and conclusions now sounds ridiculous, but it seemed so rational at the time. I wanted to broaden my appeal to have better odds at success, so I hid what I thought was undesirable. I think that is a common attitude.

And then one day, I went on a trip to California and spent a few days with my female, adult cousin and her family. While I was there, they showed me their board game closet. I perused their sci-fi movies and heard stories about their weekly Dungeons and Dragons games with friends. This was the first time I realized that there were girls out there who not only put up with those hobbies, but loved them just as much as guys did. And that completely changed the way I thought about dating.

Before, I had thought that finding a girlfriend was like most problems in the world. Make changes to increase your chance of success. But now I realized that dating was like a lock and a key. If the key does not fit in the lock, it does not mean there is something wrong with the key and you need to change the key. That key just does not fit with that lock. I did not need to change myself to fit with what I assumed most girls wanted, I needed to unabashedly put myself out there, making clear what I liked and what I valued. Even if it turns off 99% of the people, it will attract the 1% that I fit with best. This was not an odds game, this was a matching game.

In fact, there more clear you are about who you are, the faster and easier the process will be. We mistake rejection in relationships to mean that something is wrong with us, when in reality it is just the process of elimination to find the right fit. Again, to clarify, if you are cruel, paranoid, have trust issues or other baggage, we all need to continually work on self-improvement. But if you are worried that your desire for a serious relationship, your religion, your politics, your values or your interests will turn people off, then realize, it only turns off the people who are not right for you.

At the end of the day, what almost everyone truly is looking for is a relationship with someone who knows the real you, intimately, good and bad, and loves you anyway. You won’t find that by changing who you are.

Frustration is an all too familiar feeling. We all know it well. We know what situations cause it, we understand why others are frustrated and we recognize the signs of frustration in ourselves and others.

However, when asked, many people struggle to define frustration. And I think defining frustration is a big part of resolving frustration. Here is my definition:

Frustration is when we cannot accomplish our goal, because of something beyond our control.

And what do people do when frustrated? They usually just try harder. And that is not necessarily a bad character trait. Sometimes things feel outside of our control, when really we just need to keep working at it, be patient or find other solutions. However, when there really are things outside of our control, fighting harder just increases the frustration and problems. The most common thing outside your control is people. If people want to be stubborn, which they often are, there is not much you can do.

Actually, that is not exactly true. There is a lot you can do to try to control people. The problem is that most of those things do more damage in the long run. If someone is calling you names and you can’t say anything to get them to stop, you could smash their head in with a brick. That would stop the insults, but I’m pretty sure there a lot of other awful consequences headed your way. Violence, threats, insults, nagging, bribery, screaming, guilt trips, abuse and emotional manipulation are just a few of the ways people try to control each other, and they are also the reasons for many of the problems in this world.

When you try to control things you shouldn’t, you usually make things worse. It would seem like the only alternative is to give up completely and stop caring, which is usually an equally unacceptable option.

But consider the definition of frustration again:

Frustration is when we cannot accomplish our GOAL, because of something beyond our CONTROL.

Instead of trying harder and harder to control things, you could instead reevaluate your goal. If your goal is reliant on external factors, that is probably your first mistake. If you change your goal to focus on your part of a situation, then there is nothing to be frustrated about beyond your own control. For instance:

  • Instead of, “I can’t get them to listen to me,” your goal simply needs to be “I want to express myself clearly and lovingly, and then the decision is up to them.”
  • Unhealthy relationships ask, “How do I keep them happy (so they do not leave me)?” while a healthier relationship would think “What is the most loving thing to do for them, even if they may not like it?”
  • You can fret indefinitely about, “How do I get people to stop hurting me?” or you can start solving the problem by asking, “How do I stop letting people hurt me?”

There is a reason the Serenity Prayer is so immensely popular. It really does grant very real peace in life when you learn what you can or can’t control (or perhaps more accurately, should or shouldn’t control).


“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr


All of this leads to one of the great secrets of content and peaceful people. There is a mindset shift where you can stop worrying about how to control all the circumstances to get the outcomes you want, and instead be satisfied with the decisions you make. Of course, there is a lot more to say on the subject of decisions and morality. But doesn’t it seem like the common dilemma, “How do I get the results I want?” is a much more complicated and stressful endeavor than simply asking, “What is the right thing to do?”

Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if you weren’t responsible for what everyone else is doing and only had to worry about what you need to be doing? 

Well, are you responsible for the things you can’t control?

If you aren’t responsible for what you can’t control, then do you really HAVE to worry about it?

Of course, learning to stop worrying is a whole other challenge in itself. But first you have to know that you are free to stop.


I aspire to be gentle. I’m also one of those guys who gets hyped at the idea of manhood. But not the macho idea of manhood. Something greater. A lot of my ideas on the subject of authentic manhood come from John Eldridge’s Wild at Heart

But I think being gentle has a lot of negative connotations, that cause men, and women, to think that it is a sign of weakness. The word gentle often conjures up definitions like “sensitive,” “moderate,” “timid,” or “soft.” But I believe there is a lot more to the concept.

Think about what kind of words are paired with gentle: “Gentle Giant,” Gentleman, Gentle Ben. Gentle is paired with things that are considered strong or dangerous. When you explain to a child how to treat a baby, you tell them to be gentle, because if they exert their full force they will hurt the baby. But why? Here is my definition of gentleness:

Gentleness is strength restrained.

Anyone can be destructive or hurtful. To be honest, that sort of behavior may make us feel powerful. But even toddlers can be destructive. No one hurts me as much as my 4 year old daughter. Not because she is strong, but because she lacks control. The immature let loose their anger because it is the only way they think their impact will be felt. Similarly, bullies and cowards abuse their strength to cover their fear that they are not good enough.

However, it is the gentle, who are truly strong. They do not need to put on a show. They may have the power to control, take or destroy, yet do not. The gentle act in love, often choosing to stand, rather than run or fight, knowing that they can outlast their challenges. Gentleness can meet hurting people in the midst of their distress, without the overwhelming need to remove the tension before it has done its work. Gentleness says “it is ok,” with the strength and certainty to back it up.

I want to be that kind of gentle.


“Never go to bed angry,” is one of the most common pieces of advice given to newlyweds. If you ask people you know or search the web, you’ll find plenty of comments, opinions and research to either back up or contradict this age old advice.

For what it is worth, I think the fundamental principle of the cliche is true. But like most any piece of wisdom, you have to avoid taking it to extremes and there may be other factors to consider, which is the basis of the arguments criticizing this time honored saying saying.

I think that this sage advice dates back thousands of years to the scripture:

” ‘In your anger do not sin’ : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,” – Ephesians 4:26 NIV

And since this wisdom has been around for thousands of years, all I intend to do here is add my 2 cents for why it matters.

I came to understand it during my bachelor days.

My roommate, other friends and myself were playing poker in our apartment. I’m known to be overly competitive at times and my friends decided to play a little prank on me. Throughout the night, they would frequently cheat and give the winning cards to one of the other players. The player they gave the winning cards to was the person who cared the least about winning, did not take the game seriously and often had haphazard strategy. My friends knew that one of my pet peeves was losing to someone I thought played poorly. I’m not proud of this trait and try to work on it, but it is an important fact of the story.

As the night went on, I got more and more frustrated when I lost repeatedly to this player. The odds of him having the cards he did as often as he did were mind boggling. I have pretty honest friends, so I would never expect them to cheat to win, but I guess cheating to irritate me was a different matter, which is why I was slow to consider the possibility. At some point I crossed into being legitimately mad, but they continued the prank.

When they all finally had a good laugh at my expense, I was not in a good place. “How could they keep provoking me when they knew I was so upset,” I thought to myself. I don’t recall how the night ended or what happened next, but I do know that I called it a night and went to bed before any apologies or reparations could be made. I went to bed angry.

And what happens next may be familiar to you, even if you didn’t recognize what was happening. What started out as anger at a problem situation, “How could they keep provoking me when they knew I was so upset,” evolved over time as I stewed about the night. After a while, my thoughts became, “How could they be so insensitive,” to “How could they be so cruel,” to “they are such cruel, thoughtless jerks.” You see, when we dwell on a hurt without addressing the person, the problem situation eventually becomes a problem person. We attribute what happened to a flaw in the character of those who hurt us. Now that character flaw is our problem.

And it is so much harder to resolve a problem with someone when you believe the problem is their character. And when the problem is their character, the possibility of change or resolution is so much more hopeless and frustrating. Which conversation will be more productive?

 “I was hurt when you knowingly pushed my buttons,” or “I need to talk to you about how manipulative and inconsiderate you are.”

Regardless of whether you deal with a problem today or tomorrow, I think one of the key things to remember is to stay focused on the situation and not allow your anger to fester and taint your whole perception of a person. It is always easier to deal with a situational problem than a character problem. People will be far more defensive, the scope of resolution gets overwhelming, and you will have much more difficulty dealing with facts when you try to take on something as arbitrary as a character defect.

And while we are on the topic of attributions of character, here is another valuable tip. It has been observed that when we have bad behavior, we tend to blame our circumstances:

  • “I didn’t get enough sleep and was irritable”
  • “I’m under a lot of stress right now”
  • “If you only knew what my childhood was like”
  • “It was just a miscommunication”

But when other people have bad behavior, we attribute it to their character:

  • “What a selfish jerk”
  • “They are just lazy”
  • “She’s such a B—-“
  • “Don’t be an idiot”

We excuse our bad behavior with understanding and context, but we simply chalk up other people’s bad behavior to innate character flaws. I believe we do this because we love ourselves (let’s not get into the whole other subject of people who do not love themselves). Because we love ourselves, we want to think better of ourselves, so we try to understand our behavior in context. We are more than a simple label. We have good days and bad days and we don’t want all our good points and accomplishments to be cancelled out by a mistake. We don’t do this for other people, because doing all that thinking to understand someone takes a lot of mental energy, and if we’re honest, we don’t love other people enough to put in the effort to understand them.

What if one of the main lessons of the golden rule is to love others as ourselves, which means to cut other people the same amount of slack we do for ourselves. It is a lot harder to be angry when you try to consider someone as a complicated human being who is struggling to do their best, rather than just a villain.

So, if you go to bed angry, you run the risk of turning someone you care about into a villain…and that kind of makes you sound like the bad guy now, doesn’t it?


Humor is one of those things like music or nature that has an inexplicable, yet very real effect on our well being. I tried to find the source of the quote, “laughter is the best medicine,” but it seems to predate people taking credit for things. It is a piece of wisdom that may even predate language….and now I’m just imagining caveman humor.

And of course it is important in the counseling process. It is a little delicate, because no one wants to be laughed at when they share intimate details of their lives, but at just the right time, it can be enormously helpful to have a good laugh when you’re hurting. Sometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying, and sometimes you have to laugh at yourself so you don’t take yourself too seriously.

Several clients have told me that they were glad I had a good sense of humor because they can’t connect with people who don’t “get” them.

I think trying to describe a sense of humor is a pretty ambiguous and difficult task, so I won’t try too hard. Just know that I don’t take myself too seriously, I don’t take your problems lightly and I don’t mind a little dark humor.

Oh, and here is a joke that I made up while I was on hold with an insurance company for 2 hours:

How many customer service representatives does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Just one…

“Your lightbulb is very important to us and will be screwed in by the next available representative.”


Lastly, here is one of my favorite comic strips about mental health professionals: