A wise, emotionally intelligent person knows when to offer an alternative Devil’s Advocate viewpoint, when to shut their mouth, when someone is “venting” and when someone just wants them to act as a mirror to assure they are justified in feeling the way they feel.
His name was Matthew. He was my ex’s friend.
Maybe the reason my ex is now my ex is because he never defended me against people like Matthew.
My ex and I kind of had this thing going where we were each other’s cheerleader. We would work out together and when we started feeling “fat” one or the other of us would encourage the other one to get up off the couch and get active. It worked well. For years we inspired each other.
So when my ex-husband fell into a funk and I noticed it, I made a post on Facebook with a great fitness article which really inspired me.
“Come on, babe!” I encouraged, “Let’s get going! We can do this!”
Enter Matthew, stage left.
Matthew, who was just a casual friend of my husband’s, took what I said the wrong way and went on a tirade about how much of a bitch I was. In Matthew’s opinion, I was telling my husband he was fat (I hadn’t said those words, at all). He then took it further, with a rant about how women ruined everything for men from the beginning of time.
Matthew was probably projecting his own insecurities, but yes, it was epic insanity.
In anticipation, I waited for my ex to defend me against Matthew’s attack. Instead, he laughed at his comments and said nothing. Then went on to talk with him like he hadn’t just called his wife a bitch.
Men, for the love of God, I don’t care who it is – Your dad, your brother, your mother, your sister, the mailman – If someone calls your wife a name like that, you’d better be defending your wife.
When I told him I was disappointed he didn’t defend me, he asked me what I had done to provoke Matthew.
Fighting words. I’d done exactly nothing and told him this.
“Oh. Guess he’s just being a jerk.”
That was the end of it, as far as he was concerned. I was still furious. The whole conversation between Matthew and myself was right there on Facebook and he blew it off as if it were my fault or like I had deserved his friend’s treatment somehow.
It was one of many times where he didn’t stick up for me. I can’t imagine ever letting one of my friends disrespect him that way. No way would I stand for someone talking to him the way his friend did to me while saying absolutely nothing. Years of this kind of behavior ended up being one of many things that did our marriage in.
Playing devil’s advocate can tell your spouse that their opinions and feelings do not matter. It minimalizes and trivializes problems. When one person in a relationship does this to the other, it can cause irreparable harm.
Even after this relationship was over, it was experienced in another relationship. As someone fairly level-headed, I thought, “What if he’s right? What if I do overreact? What if I am not giving the benefit of the doubt enough?”
And so I’d be more patient, flexible, more understanding…and get hurt over and over again. I’d take blatant insults from others repeatedly because the voice in my head told me “It’s probably your fault…Maybe you are overreacting.” Until I realized, my feelings were completely valid! I had every right to be pissed off when someone disrespected me.
There are reasons why people play Devil’s Advocate. Some are part of their personalities, some are well-intentioned; Others are more insidious.
Playing Advocate for the Devil’s Advocate
When someone plays devil’s advocate, there are several reasons. It’s not always a bad thing when done from a place of concern and reason. On a bigger scale, society needs Devil’s Advocates. They keep thinking from all going one direction. They break up sheep mentality. They keep us intellectually fit and mentally stable. Are they annoying? Yes. But you must examine intentions. When you’re in a relationship, things get trickier.
A wise, emotionally intelligent person knows when to offer an alternative Devil’s Advocate viewpoint, when to shut their mouth, when someone is “venting” and when someone just wants them to act as a mirror to assure them they are justified in feeling the way they feel.
Some people who are fantastic Devil’s Advocates in the arena of public thought may end up not making the best relationship partners unless they learn to turn off their advocacy within the boundaries of their most cherished relationships.
There are several different kinds of Devil’s Advocates and some are better in relationships than others. Some are wise enough to know when to “turn it off”.
So why do some continue to bring their passion for advocating for the Devil into the relationship?
- They are simply trying to provide an alternative viewpoint to be sure you are thinking of things from all angles
They want to be sure you’ve thought of everything. Really. The friend who just stabbed you in the back you are telling them about – Do you really want to cut off ten years of friendship over one fight? They are trying to provide an objective voice of reason…because they are reasonable people.
However, this can be highly insulting if you are one of those people who think things into oblivion until your very brain cells are exhausted. Chances are, you already know in the back of your mind what you are going to do about a situation. What you really wanted was to hear the person you love most in the world say was something like, “Damn, that sucks. You are absolutely right.” to validate the way you are feeling, “Yes, I’d be hurt, too.”
Instead, they question every feeling you have. The truth is, your Devil’s Advocate probably means well if, in every other regard, they show their love for you on a consistent basis and you have no other reason to question the way they feel about you. Their ability to see all sides of a situation is what they are proud of about themselves and it’s possible they don’t realize the pain they cause.
- This is their personality.
They are difficult people. They like to stir the pot. They like the drama of giving a “Did you ever think about that?” response and then sitting back, smirking, arms folded to watch your brain scramble to defense. They are bullies of an insidious nature who throw acid on your every thought or idea and then claim, “I was just offering a different viewpoint/giving a different solution/providing some food for thought/trying to help, etc.”
If they are smirking while listening to your problems or laughing about them while giving sarcastic responses, chances are this is what you are dealing with – Someone who derives pleasure from being a pain in the ass, or who doesn’t know when to be serious. For five seconds.
They can’t stand attaching labels to themselves because they like to be able to make fun of everything without giving anyone else some perceived weakness to latch on to. They may be politically moderate. They won’t confine themselves to a genre of music. They will dress “boring”. They won’t reveal much personal detail about themselves. They are a moving target. Chances are, they became this way after being picked on a lot themselves. So they figure a vague life without being committed to any idea is the way to escape criticism while criticizing everyone else from their swiftly-moving cloud. They have found refuge in playing Devil’s Advocate to take the focus off their own insecurities.
- They truly don’t care about your problems and are trying to shut you up
You are annoying them. They don’t have the patience to deal with you and your problems. They don’t want to listen. They’re not even trying to play pot-stirring games with you. They just want to drop a bomb on you in the form of making you feel stupid so you will stop…talking.
They will typically be more abrupt and point out one of your faults to take validation away from your feelings by using how you are imperfect against you.
“Oh yeah? So some woman at the grocery store asked if you are pregnant? Like you don’t see how someone might say that?” (staring at your gut)
“Alexandra asked someone else to photograph her wedding? Well, let’s face it – You’re not a very good photographer.”
These are the typical responses of a Sociopath. Things as such might be completely true, but there are people on this earth who have not learned the fine art of diplomatic response, kindness and protecting the fragile sense of self of others. There are friends who are honest with you and then there are those who fire off statements, such as above, without thought or care to the impact those words might have on others. These people aren’t just “Devil’s Advocates”, they are the Devil, himself.
Are you the Devil’s Advocate?
Maybe you have seen your advocacy ruin relationships with people you cared about.
Assuming it’s not that you don’t really care about the person or the psychological well-being of the person you are advocating against, maybe it really is just your personality to be this way as a form of protection. Maybe you can’t stand to have any discussion without exploring all sides in your quest for truth and knowledge.
If Devil’s Advocacy makes you feel protected, maybe it’s because people make you feel stupid every day. People don’t take you seriously. So why should you take them seriously? You can find the flaw in every situation and you’re not afraid to say it. You believe yourself to have a relationship with the truth – But you are ignorant of feelings and emotion.
It’s foreign to you why anyone would disclose so much personal information or leave themselves wide open and vulnerable by bleeding out their problems to someone else’s listening ear. When in a relationship with one of these people – You don’t get it. Instead of accepting that this is the way some people are, you try to change them to be more like you. You try to encourage them to be cold towards these issues…like you. This survival technique works for you, so why won’t they stop being stupid and learn it?
With every devil’s advocate comes a bit of arrogance. It’s arrogant to demand all people handle problems the way you do. Some people need to talk their problems out. Some need to let out an emotion and have someone echo back, “I hear you”. Just because you don’t does not mean the world will adjust to suit you. You don’t need to talk about problems and that’s great…or possibly not. Because even advocates sometimes eventually end up needing to see therapists.
You’ve probably been looking at emotive people as “weak”, “fragile”, or a burden without really seeing them for the gifts they are. While you believe you are on a quest for Truth via advocating for the devil, these people give you truth every day in the form of genuine expression.
Only a wise Devil’s Advocate will recognize this and begin to appreciate the color an empathic, emotive person who discusses their day at work, who talks about their plans, who tells you about their problems brings to the black and white of a fully advocated world.
Dear Devil’s Advocate – You seek truth and they are giving it to you. In return for their gift of beautifully emoted truth, it is you that may need to do the adjusting to give them back what they need – An affirmation of the world as they see it, the pain they are feeling, or their reasoning behind the decisions they make daily.
Okay, all This is Great, but Where is my White Knight?
Okay, establishing that not all devil’s advocacy is a bad thing, the part that is more worrisome than anything – The lack of defense from the partner of a Devil’s Advocate.
The people who spurned you, your partner cavorts with. The ones who stabbed you in the back, they still show kindness to. Their advocacy has made them seek the truth, but acting on it in reality is another matter.
First things first – Please examine the reason your partner did not stick up for you. Were you out of line? Did you take something too far? Or were you making a reasonable attempt to stand up for yourself? If you swear you are acting reasonably, there is no way to mince words – A devil’s advocate must realize the line where his/her advocacy ends and their relationship begins. Failing to recognize this will spell an end to even the best of relationships.
When someone insults your partner and you defend them, your penchant for advocating for the devil has become more important than your relationship. Beyond initially questioning, continuing to defend someone who has wronged your partner or failing to stand up for your partner is sheer cowardice. This shows you choose your reputation or friendship with other people over your relationship with your spouse or partner.
Maybe you feel your partner is overly sensitive and allowing petty disagreements to continually come between the two of you and good friendships — And this may be true.
Why do you feel your partner is being paranoid? Why do you feel they are exaggerating? Why do you feel the problem is theirs and not the other party’s? Could it be because you spend more time with your partner and have seen their faults? Is it possible that if you spent a large amount of time with the other party you might see that their viewpoints are more illogical than those of your partner?
In the end, you owe it to the one you love to take them at their word. If you doubt their word that much to the point you more often than not feel they are over-exaggerating every slight that comes their way, it’s possible the relationship is not for you.
And if you are the one who feels unheard or are being made to feel crazy, illogical, paranoid or consistently in the wrong even during times most people are agreeing you are right; Likewise, it may be time to think about your choice of mate.