What Is Weaponized Incompetence In A Relationship?

Relationships take a lot of work. A lot. But sometimes one partner doesn't want to put in the effort or pick up the slack when they should. Sometimes, this lack of effort is steeped in laziness, other times it's because the partner in question just doesn't care, then there are those situations when it's a deliberate act of feigning incompetence to avoid doing something they don't want to do. This is called weaponized incompetence, or strategic incompetence because the person pretending they can't do something (that they can!) is strategic in how they avoid whatever it is they're supposed to do.

"Weaponized incompetence refers to pretending not to know how to do something when you do really know how to do it," psychotherapist and writer, Emily Mendez, M.S., tells Bustle. "In a relationship, it could be one person saying something like, 'I don't know how to do that. So, I'll let you take care of it.' This can be seen as a manipulation tactic."

If it sounds passive-aggressive, it's because it is. If it sounds childish, it's because it totally is. And, sadly, women are subjected to it not just at home but also in the workplace (via HuffPost). The reason for this is that women feel it's their responsibility to step up when their male partners or male colleagues don't want to do something that they can actually do. Although the dynamic seems to affect heterosexual couples more often, it doesn't mean those are the only relationships where one partner weaponizes incompetence so they can get out of doing their fair share.

How to recognize weaponized incompetence in your relationship

Well, if your partner is always claiming they can't do something because they don't know how to, then that's a perfect example. Ask them to run to the store and pick up some olive oil? They can't. It's too confusing, and what if they buy the wrong olive oil? Ask them to do a load of laundry? They can't. They've never done it, and what if they break the washing machine?

"In your day-to-day life, you may see examples of this when your partner doesn't want to do a chore around the house and so delays and delays doing it until you do it yourself, or will do something badly so that you step in and probably never ask them again," relationship coach John Kenny tells Glamour. "Recently, I spoke to a client that was having this issue with their partner loading the dishwasher. 'How hard can it actually be to load the dishwasher? No matter how many times I tell him where to put things so they wash properly, he just chucks them in so they need washing again. I should just do it myself!' But guess what, in this case, that is exactly what he wanted her to do."

And that's the whole tactic: trying to get the competent partner to just throw their hands up in the air and declare, "I'll just do it myself!" (via Refinery29).

How to deal with weaponized incompetence

While there are likely to be real situations in which your partner legitimately has zero clue what they're doing, some tasks have no excuse. Anyone can load a dishwasher and turn it on, anyone can make a bed, and anyone can vacuum — there's no vacuum in the world that's so complicated that an adult person can't figure out how to use it.

But when only one partner wants to partake in these shared chores, you realize you're in a one-sided relationship, which can feel isolating and stressful and can even negatively impact your self-esteem (via Verywell Mind).

"Addressing the issue very clearly and directly is the best course of action," relationship and communication therapist Nirmala Bijraj tells Popsugar. You're not your partner's mom, and if that's what they're looking for, then they should probably move back in with their parents. Relationships take equality, in all realms, especially when it comes to chores. It's not 1950 anymore. 

If talking about the problem only gets you so far or the behavior returns shortly after addressing it, then it might be time to seek out couples therapy. Relationships take two (or more) people, and if each partner isn't willing to be equal in their effort and input, then professional help might be your only choice.