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Dear Robin: How do I Handle my Friends who Fight in Front of Me?

Monday, November 03, 2014


Photo credit: iStock

Dear Robin,

My husband has a friend from college (“George”) who moved to Portland with his family and as a result we have spent a lot of social time with them since they arrived last spring. They are a nice enough couple, but they fight.  My husband and I rarely fight and when we do it is always behind closed doors.

It’s usually the wife (“Emmie”) who is the worst and she has a nasty habit of putting him down in front of others and yelling at him over really trivial things.  Eventually he fights back and then the entire evening is ruined.  The worst part is this often happens in front of their young son who is obviously traumatized by his parents’ behavior.

I hate it.  My parents fought a lot when I was growing up and this brings back bad memories for me.  It was one thing to hang out with them over dinners when they would visit Portland, because once in a while they could make it through an evening without sniping at each other. Now I have the pleasure of watching them tear each other apart a couple times a month.

What do I do? My husband and George are very good friends and although it bothers him too, his idea is just to say nothing and hope it stops at some point.  Should I confront them and tell them how uncomfortable their fighting makes me?




Dear Carrie,

Your husband’s idea is less an “idea” than it is an impressive impression of an ostrich. Is he Norwegian?

Nobody likes being around couples who argue a lot, but kids who grew up in tumultuous homes really don’t like it. Do you get a sinking feeling in your stomach and immediate onset of sadness when George and Emmie Bickerson argue?  That’s a re-run of the crap your parents put you through and that bubbling up of bitter memories is not something you should have to endure when you are trying to get your party on.

Your problem’s solution is pretty simple and my answer to your question may surprise you if you are a regular reader. While I am usually prone to encouraging folks to be open and direct in their relationships, I don’t suggest you do that here. Why?

These people already know they fight in front of company, and they already know it is obnoxious and rude. They don’t care. They are more invested in hurting and humiliating each other in front of an audience than they are in having a good time and making their friends feel relaxed and comfortable in their company.

I’d go so far as to posit that having an audience is really the point for these folks.  It’s no fun humiliating each other if the only people to witness it are the kid and the cat.

Worse still, they don’t seem to give a damn about their child.  My heart breaks for that poor little guy.

I speak from personal experience when I tell you that if you broach this subject with your friends, it will likely not end well. This is especially true because you and your husband get along great and never argue in front of other people. Being called out on bad marital behavior by someone in a happy marriage will create tension, envy, and anger and it just isn’t worth it.

Rather than a heart-to-heart talk, I’d participate in some good old-fashioned public shaming.  Public shaming is great but nobody does it anymore, so let’s you and me bring the art of the public shame back into fashion.

The next time you are having dinner with these fine people, call them out on their behavior as it happens. For example, if she starts bitching that he doesn’t make enough money so she has to live in a house she doesn’t like, I’d say, “wow – it must be really hard for your husband to hear you say that, especially in front of us. Maybe if you got a job you could have a bigger house.  Now stop it or I’ll make you pay for dinner and you’ll be 120 bucks further away from your dream McMansion!”

If she screams at him because he cut the roast pork tenderloin into 1/4 inch slices rather than the 1/8 inch she had demanded, adopt your best singsongy happy voice and say, “Emmie, step away from the butcher knife!  We don’t want George getting hurt and not being able to earn a substandard living that doesn’t meet your expectations!  Oh look, your son is crying in the corner along with the cat!  I didn’t know cats could cry….”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This may result in their behavior changing, but I highly doubt it.  At some point you will have to stand your ground in self-defense of your right to socialize without witnessing the public and humiliating disintegration of a terrible marriage.  With friends like these, who needs reality television?  An unplugging of the relationship is in order unless public shaming has the desired effect.

Good luck!


Dear Robin,

As a gay man, I take my politics very seriously.  Last week I found out one of my straight friends is voting for a republican candidate I consider to be very dangerous and who thinks I don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else.

My friend didn’t understand my point of view that if she supports a political party that doesn’t believe that I am equal and thinks it should be legal to discriminate against me I don’t see how we can continue to be friends.

She made it worse when she claimed she only votes GOP for fiscal reasons.  Really -your money is worth more than the rights and “freedom to live” of millions of Americans?

Can you be friends with people whose political beliefs are directly opposed to your own interests?




Dear Sam:

Not only can you be friends with people whose political beliefs are contrary to your own, many of us often vote for candidates who consistently act against our interests. Before you dump your friend, take note of the following:

She herself does not hold the same anti-gay beliefs that the politician does, but rather she is voting with her wallet.  Isn’t it enough that you know she holds no discriminatory feelings towards you or your community?

Your friend likely realizes that no politician, regardless of office, holds that much sway over the major social issues like abortion and gay rights.  We live in a very liberal state, and by state, I mean the City of Portland which determines all statewide elections – sorry, Depoe Bay and Grants Pass.

Every time we step into the voting booth, otherwise known as our kitchen table here in Oregon, we hold our noses and do our civic duty.  I have yet to find anyone who meets all my criteria for an excellent candidate, and that’s because the perfect candidate is a unicorn.  They don’t exist, especially these days when running for office is a sure-fire way to see all your precious skeletons come charging out of the closet via opposition research and the internet.

Unless your friend has had a change of heart and thinks that the gays caused the Benghazi attacks and AIDS is God’s way of extending his middle finger to homosexuals, I’d cut her some slack.  Check in with her on her morals and if they remain inoffensive to you, do not end the friendship because of how she votes.

That’s downright intolerant, Sam, and I know intolerance ain’t your thing.

Former Portland lawyer and current Portland big mouth Robin DesCamp is the Velvet Sledgehammer of Truth, smashing through socially acceptable niceties to tell you how to live your life, and why. She blogs at www.askdescamp.com. Write to her at [email protected]


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