6 Harsh Reasons Your Husband Plays Devil’s Advocate

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man and woman arguing

A common problem that I see in couples counseling is a lack of empathy between partners.

Sometimes, individuals just lack empathy entirely, as in Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but more often, both partners are capable of empathy, but something is going awry in the way that they communicate with one another.

A common pattern that I see is when a husband (can be either gender, but I more often see this in men) plays “devil’s advocate” with his wife, driving her crazy and making her feel invalidated and irritated.

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Playing devil’s advocate means someone explaining the opposite side of an issue to you. Here are some examples of how this looks in real time:

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Wife: I really can’t stand my boss. Why did he give me all this work over the weekend?

Husband: He seems pretty fair. He did let you work from home a lot last month and you know you really don’t get as much done here, so maybe there’s just a backlog of work.


Wife: My sister was so rude to me about posting that picture of the kids on Facebook. She is so self-righteous about safety or whatever, meanwhile, it’s obvious she is just super anxious.

Husband: Well, who knows, maybe one day we’ll regret posting our kids so often. I read this article about how it kind of violates kids’ rights to post them without their consent, it was an interesting take.

It is easy to empathize with both of the wives in these hypothetical exchanges. They were upset and wanted their husband to support them, or at least be a safe space where they could vent. Instead, their husbands, for seemingly no reason, started a conflict about an issue that in all likelihood they had not actually taken a firm stand on before that very moment.

By the way, “playing devil’s advocate” doesn’t apply when it is a situation where the wife and husband have previously stated firm opinions on the opposite sides of a given issue. For example, if the husband in the latter example had already said he doesn’t want the kids posted on social media, it would not be playing devil’s advocate, but just agreeing with the sister.

Instead, it is when the husband brings up an idea purely to give the opposite position. We have no clue if he agrees with his sister-in-law or not, which is why his behavior is even more annoying to his wife. He doesn’t really care about the issue but seems to be avoiding supporting her anyway.

Why would the husband communicate this way when his wife consistently responds poorly, and in many cases, has outright told him how invalidated and irritated it makes her feel?

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Here are 6 reasons that your husband plays devil’s advocate:

1. He is kind of Aspie or at least very fact-centric

He is continually surprised that you do not find it interesting to know what the other side of a debate is, because a debate, to him, is comprised of two interesting sets of suppositions, one which may be more valid than the other, and very little emotion.

2. He thinks you are always complaining 

(This may well be true, because many women bond over complaining/venting, whereas more men bond over activities). He feels that you are hard on other people and he wants to draw your attention to what they are thinking or feeling. This dynamic is particularly prevalent in situations where the husband thinks the wife is too hard on the kids.

3. He is good at it

He is very smart and verbal and has been praised for his cleverness since childhood. He is probably also in a job where this skill is rewarded (lawyer, or anything in science/academia or business really). He is trying to show you how smart he is. Not in a narcissistic way, but in the way where he wants you to be proud of him.

He always thinks that this time, unlike prior times when you said you couldn’t stand this behavior, you will be impressed by his ability to think quickly and fluidly.

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4. He is being passive-aggressive

If he in fact is aware that he is doing this and that you hate it, then it may be a passive-aggressive way for him to upset you. This one may stand on its own, because he is angry at you for some other reason, or it may go along with #2 and is a way to punish you for what, in his mind, is an endless stream of self-pity and whining.

5. He thinks you are unfair to him and so he rushes to the defense of anyone/anything else you’re unfair towards

This is a dynamic I often see in couples where the man feels like the woman thinks he “can’t do anything right.”

He is used to feeling victimized by her, and so he is very attuned to times when he feels she is victimizing anyone else. If he sees his wife as mean or unfair in general, this is a convenient way to tell himself that he’s not to blame for any of why she may be upset with him.

6. He believes that it will genuinely help you to hear the other position

This is usually the husband’s conscious explanation for this behavior, and in some cases, it is authentic (although, more often, it is coupled with one of the other explanations that are occurring below consciousness).

In the first example, he thinks you will be less upset with your boss and therefore calmer in general if you can see his rationale. In the second, he may want to smooth things out between you and your sister, especially if your relationship with her is contentious and a frequent source of stress.

If your husband plays devil’s advocate, think deeply about which one(s) of these explanations most likely apply.

Each one might lead you to act in different ways, and thinking about his reasoning at all will promote empathy and lessen your irritation with him. If you think it won’t lead to an argument, i.e. if you two are not already in a high-conflict dynamic, you can also share this article with him and use it to spark a conversation about his intentions and your feelings.

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Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This article was originally published at Dr. Psych Mom. Reprinted with permission from the author.