Worried Your Partner Is Engaging in Weaponized Incompetence? Here's What to Know
We hear relationships are supposed to be 50/50, a mix of give and take, but… that’s not always how it plays out. Maybe you clean the house or cook more. Perhaps you do the laundry so often that you never want to see a washing machine again. While some unbalance is normal, too much can be unhealthy.
Feeling like you’re doing all the work can be frustrating, and it’s a quick way to burn yourself out. But at the same time, I’m sure you have your reasons. Maybe your partner does a lousy job, and you’re tired of re-doing everything they did. After all, as the saying goes, “If you want something done well, you have to do it yourself.”
This behavior of theirs — a.k.a., doing something poorly or saying they “don’t know how” so you do it repeatedly — is called weaponized incompetence or strategic incompetence. Originally coined in 2007, the term is now popping up all over TikTok. The hashtag #weaponizedincompetence currently has over 27 million views.
These videos usually entail people complaining about doing all the chores because their partners don’t pull their weight. Their partners may do the job too slowly or claim they don’t know what to do or spend too much time doing other things.
But at what point is a partner engaging in straight-up, full-out weaponized incompetence? In other words, when are they claiming they can’t do something that they actually can (and probably should)?
Examples of weaponized incompetence
Here are some examples of weaponized incompetence from TikTok: A mom commented, “My husband tries to pass off a chore to me because ‘you know I get water all over the floor though.’” A professor talked about how, as a child, he decided he’d do such a bad job at washing the dishes his mom would never ask him again. And a feminist author on TikTok shared the example of a partner saying, “I never know how to do your laundry right. Like, you’re really picky about it.”
So basically, it’s anytime your partner gives endless excuses (or claims it’s a “no bones day”) when you need them to do something, from housework to errands to taking care of the kids.
Why do people do this?
The answer to why partners engage in weaponized incompetence is simple: They want to get out of doing the work.
One TikToker even made a rap about this phenomenon and why people do it, giving this same reason.
“By feigning or playing up incompetence with something like grocery shopping or giving the dog a bath, the guilty party essentially ensures that next time, their partner will elect to do it themselves, rather than ask them for help,” explained Kristine Fellizar in a Bustle article.
Why do we tolerate this behavior?
As you may be able to tell, your partner doesn’t really mean what they’re saying. Or, if they genuinely don’t know how to do something you need them to, that’s not an excuse. They can learn; not knowing something doesn’t mean you have to pick up all the slack.
Remember, you don’t have to live this way forever. You deserve to have breaks and have a partner who’s honest with you. Your frustrated feelings are valid.
Unfortunately, though, trying to fix this behavior isn’t always so simple. Cheryl Strayed, an author, podcast host, and advice columnist mentioned you may have tolerated these behaviors because you felt guilty about your request in a New York Times column.
You may have also internalized the societal and cultural idea that men, in particular, can’t do household work and that women “should.” According to recent studies, men lost more working hours during the first COVID-19 lockdown, but cisgender women still carried out most domestic labor. While this isn’t true for every heterosexual couple — and while it may be true in some queer couples — the rates are significant.
As tempting as it may still be to continue the cycle or give your partner the silent treatment, those aren’t the most helpful options. And taking action is vital since the effects can be dangerous, from partners falling asleep while watching your baby or you finding a knife in your child’s car seat (yep, seriously!).
So, what are the next best steps?
How to work on this issue with your partner
To address this, start with a one-on-one conversation, remembering “us versus the problem” instead of “you versus me.”
“I think it’d be helpful to discuss this dynamic with him — not the one that includes only the two of you, pitted against each other in a who-does-what argument, but one that acknowledges that this is a cultural problem and one part of solving it on the micro-level is recognizing that there are macro reasons the imbalance in your relationship exist,” Strayed suggested. “Then rebalance them. Tell your husband you won’t be doing his share of the emotional and domestic labor anymore and follow through.”
If that doesn’t work, bringing in a relationship therapist can be helpful. “I’d strongly recommend that you seek the help of a counselor, who can make sure you’re both saying everything you need to say — and listening to each other,” said Steve Almond, an author in the same column. “Is it frightening? Yes. But until you find a greater measure of equality in your union, you’re not going to be able to restore your faith in the ‘pretty great guy you married.”
As Almond mentioned, having these conversations may not be easy or without a bit of stress — but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to have them. For both you as individuals and as partners, working together on to-do list items is crucial to avoid resentment and burnout.