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If you see a couple fighting, put the damn camera away

Many years ago, when I was in a very unhappy relationship, I had a fight with my then-partner in a shopping centre. I prefer not to revisit the particulars of the argument; suffice it to say that I was so distressed I yelled and cried in a public area. People were staring. They were, no doubt, commenting. It was incredibly humiliating. I never want to feel that way again.

I thought of that incident last night, when I read of the widely reported altercation between former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke and his girlfriend, Jade Yarbrough. The couple were filmed earlier this month in Noosa having an argument, with Yarbrough accusing Clarke of infidelities and slapping him.

Michael Clarke and partner Jade Yarbrough in happier times.Credit:Getty

I read the story and felt conflicted compassion for Yarbrough. Violence is never OK and there is never any excuse to slap another person. But I can acknowledge this and still have empathy for a person feeling so distraught, so betrayed, that she lost all sense of propriety, self-preservation and screamed at her partner in public.

No one chooses to lose control in front of other people. No one wants to lose their dignity, or to be so vulnerable. We all do our best to maintain our public facade, to not let anyone see the cracks in our relationships. Which one of us hasn’t had a fight with our partner on the way to a party, only to bravely plaster on a smile and look cheerful as we walk through the front door?

Still, there is a difference between the normal arguments that take place in a healthy partnership and the type of catastrophic fights that signal the end of a relationship. Being pushed beyond your boundaries to a public display of distress falls into the latter category. It is a sign that your relationship has degenerated beyond all possible redemption. It is a sign to get out, as quickly as you can.

I don’t recall the precise scenario that led to my fight in a shopping centre, but I still recall the utter mortification that followed. Thankfully I am not a public figure, and no one bothered to whip out a phone and film me as I cried and yelled. I cannot even imagine how traumatised I would have been to see my anguish play out in the media.

Every scandalous story needs a villain, and everyone will have their own take on who is at fault. Some people will argue that Yarbrough was remiss for slapping her partner, no matter how greatly she was provoked. Many will argue that Clarke is the villain.

I think the true villain of this story is our society, in which it has become normal to film people in distress instead of offering support or assistance. We whip out our phones, we laugh at the footage, we share it on social media, we turn it into funny memes, and we take one of the worst days of someone’s life and make it even more terrible.

I hope that everyone who is laughing at the story, who is sharing memes about it and snickering with each other, will remember that there are human beings involved with human feelings. Yes, the footage was of a controversial middle-aged cricketer, his glamorous girlfriend and his TV-star mate. But it is also footage of a woman’s distress, of anger and shock and pain.

Michael Clarke (left); who appears to be slapped by his girlfriend in the video (right).Credit:The Daily Telegraph

If you have never been hurt by another person then sure, laugh away. But if you know what it’s like to be in that person’s position, then show a little compassion.

And if you see a couple fighting in public, either leave them alone, or, if someone is in danger, ask if they need help. At the very least, try to do the right thing and resist the urge to film.

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