The problem: I am good friends with a married couple who are generally kind, thoughtful and fun. However, every time a group of us gets together, they find something to argue about. What’s odd is that they’ve been married only a few years, which seems way too early in the relationship for this. Sometimes in public, they will excuse themselves to resolve it and return as if nothing has happened. Other times, they bicker right in front of us, and then pretend it didn’t happen. It’s getting to be expected that every time we all hang out, they fight. It’s creating a lot of unnecessary awkwardness.
Low road: The next time they step away, get up and bolt, leaving nothing but the bill as a sign you were there. Regroup elsewhere, where they can’t find you.
High road: Fighting styles among couples vary greatly, just as does comfort with the opposite cringer — public displays of affection. Couples may be so comfortable with conflict that they don’t realize they’re upsetting those around them. You could make light the next time you see them gearing up. “Hey, you two! Get a room!” clues them in to the fact that you’re uneasy, even if they aren’t. And remember that it’s often the couple who never fight in front of friends who stun with news of their divorce.
However, because your friends do sometimes walk away, they are aware on some level that they’re causing distress. I worry that your friends’ marriage is in trouble. The early years are, in fact, a particularly vulnerable time, as the honeymoon phase fades and the realities of budgeting, child-rearing and labor divisions come into stark view. As a good friend, please meet one or both of them for coffee. Tell them they are dear to you and you’re worried about all the fighting. Ask how you can help. Even surrounded by good friends, they both may be feeling very alone, and relieved to be asked.
Send questions about life’s little quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Gail’s “High Road” columns at startribune.com/highroad.