Unhappy Couple Brings Everyone Down

Dear Debby,

A friend of mine, Jack, has been with his girlfriend, Tina, for about three years. They often hang out with our group of friends as a couple, so we know and like Tina as a friend, even though we’re closer with Jack. Lately, it has seemed like they might break up because they argue, and actually Jack is sometimes quite mean to Tina, even around us. The other day, he called her stupid when she made a simple mistake. It makes me feel uncomfortable when he is mean to her, but I’m reluctant to say anything. I feel like a couple’s relationship is their business, not mine. Also, I don’t want Jack to think I’m taking Tina’s side. Jack is an old friend, and he’s usually not mean at all. I don’t like how he’s acting now, but it seems like their relationship is the reason. What if they keep fighting and Jack keeps being mean to her? It’s already unpleasant, and I don’t know what to do about it.

Uncomfortable around an unhappy couple - SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.

Dear Uncomfortable,

Every couple has to learn how to act around other people. Many types of private couple behavior should stay private! In your friends’ case, it sounds like Jack and Tina haven’t learned exactly what should stay private and as a result, they are making their friends feel bad. I’m afraid that the only thing you can do now is to avoid hanging out with them altogether.

Hopefully, they figure out why they are not being invited. They will either break up, or they will improve their public behavior. Check on them in a year or so - they might be quite different, or they might not be a ‘they’ at all. Then you can choose which one you want to remain friends with.

Debby Dupont

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Worksheet with activities

Useful Language

  • Bring [sb] down (phr. v) - make unhappy, depressed
  • Be with [sb] - to be dating
  • Hang out with [sb] (phr. v) - to spend time with
  • Break up (phr. v) - the end of a relationship
  • Mean (adj) - not nice, cruel
  • Reluctant (adj) - not wanting to do something
  • Take [sb's] side (phr. v) - to support one person and not another
  • Unpleasant (adj) - not enjoyable, uncomfortable
  • Check on (phr. v) - to check the condition of sb or sth


Discuss the following questions with your partner(s).

  1. Do you hang out with any couples? What is the difference between spending time with single friends and couples?
  2. What would make you think a couple might break up soon? What signs might you notice?
  3. What do you think when you hear a person being mean to their partner?
  4. How do you feel about arguing in a relationship? Is it a necessary part of a relationship? Is a relationship with no arguing a healthy one?
  5. Do you give your friends relationship advice? Why or why not?
  6. If someone gave you relationship advice, how would you react?
  7. What types of private couple behavior should remain private?
  8. What did you think of Debby’s advice? Do you have a better idea?
  9. What do you think will happen to Jack and Tina?