Criticism, sarcasm and a side of nasty.
You asked us:
Why do we get stuck bickering with each other, making unkind, sarcastic comments and criticising each other all the time?
Here’s what Amity has to say:
Ah yes, that familiar situation, you make a chippy comment to me, I don’t like it so I look for my chance to make a chippy comment back. At Amity we call this Toxic Tennis! It’s a game we all play. We get into a cycle of being irritated by the other person, so when we see our chance to criticise them, we take it. The natural response to this is to be defensive….and then to seek out a negative about the other person's behaviour so you can criticise them back. You take a shot at me, I take a shot at you, on and on it goes….toxic tennis.
A relationship stuck in a Wimbledon-length toxic tennis tournament is generally not a particularly happy one!
What might make it worse:
Many things can make this game of tennis worse. For a start, refusing to recognise that the criticism may actually be accurate…image that! Yes, sometimes what is being pointed out to you (maybe not very sensitively!) may be valid. For example, maybe you did actually eat what was in the fridge so there was nothing left for anyone else. If you are in a negative place with your partner you will not be open to hearing/accepting that you may need to acknowledge that you may need to own, even apologise for something you have done.
This is how we get into a sticky place with our relationships, if we stubbornly stick to always being defensive. By doing this we erode the warmth of our relationships, we erode the trust and the feeling of being a team.
What might make it better:
What makes it better, change your tennis game, in short, stop playing singles and start playing doubles. Admittedly not as easy as wondering round to the other side of the net, BUT not as difficult as it might seem. Firstly, you need to recognise that you are playing toxic tennis in the first place. Then think about the idea that one of you needs to catch the ball. This means stopping taking every opportunity you get to pick up on negatives about your partner. If being critical reduces then in turn so does the defensive behaviour, this then creates space for the warmth to return, things calm down a bit, you can reframe how you are choosing to see each other.