Is Your Partner Guilty of Weaponized Incompetence? Here’s Why It’s Toxic in Relationships

A passive aggressive ploy to manipulate

weaponized incompetence
PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/getty images

You and your husband just got home from a long day of work. You picked the kids up and have to get them in the bath, but you also need to do some prep work for dinner. As you head to bath time, you ask your husband if he can get started on the meal. He agrees. But when you come back downstairs, you find that the vegetables that were supposed to sautéing are still raw and untouched. “I didn't know where the knife you use is,” he laments. And just like that, it’s your job again. This is an example of weaponized incompetence, a deceitful tactic in which one partner in a relationship feigns incompetence so they won't be asked to do the task again. It's a passive aggressive ploy to manipulate one partner into taking on an unfair share of responsibilities.

If you’re on TikTok (or Instagram Reels), you’ve likely seen weaponized incompetence discussed a lot. Normally, it’s a video of a heterosexual couple where the woman does the vast majority of the work and the husband is apparently clueless about how to do, well, everything. To learn more, we checked in with therapist Alison LaSov.

Meet the Expert

Alison LaSov, LMT, is the CEO of Advekit, a platform that helps match people to therapists. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. LaSov earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University.

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1. What Is Weaponized Incompetence?

"Weaponized incompetence refers to one partner in a relationship choosing to approach a task with little to no effort so as to not be asked to repeat that task in the future," LaSov explains. "The reason why this is considered weaponizing is that it puts the onus on the other partner to not only have to pick up the slack and fix the first task that was mediocrely executed, but that person is also left responsible for picking up the slack on future tasks. This is unfair to the partner putting in the work and it creates inequality in the partnership." You might be wondering, But what if my partner is genuinely unable, and not being deceitful? That very well may be the case, but if they're honestly just not good at something, they'll take the time to learn how to do the task at hand, versus continuing to push it onto your plate because they "can't do it."

2. What Are Some Warning Signs to Look Out for?

LaSov notes that no one particularly likes doing chores, but there should be the expectation that each person in a relationship will put in 50 percent. "What we often see happening is that one partner will say, 'I have no idea how to do that,' or 'I am not very good at that so you should do it,' to avoid having to be bothered," she adds. "Typically, it’s been reported that this seemingly lazy behavior is commonly found in hetero relationships, where the man is feigning incompetence so that his female partner can pick up the slack." (Weaponized incompetence, in general, is more common in men than in women.)

A few phrases to look out for include:

  • "You're so much better at this than I am, can you just do it?"
  • "I never do this as well as you do."
  • "This is going to take me forever, can't you just do it quickly? You're so much faster than I am."

3. Is This a New Phenomenon, or Has Social Media Made People More Aware?

In LaSov's opinion, this is absolutely not a new phenomenon, but putting a name to it on social media makes the behavior more identifiable. She tells us, "There have been inequalities in relationships since the beginning of time, most commonly within hetero relationships, where the man thinks his contributions to the household are 'helping' his wife."

4. If You Feel Like This Is Happening in Your Relationship, What Can You Do About It?

The first thing to do is identify a pattern of this behavior. "Make sure that your partner is not just having an off day or feeling lackadaisical for other reasons," LaSov says. "Weaponized incompetence refers to a continual behavior that is typically intentional, rather than a few occurrences where someone is unhelpful. If you deem that your partner is pretending to be incompetent to avoid contributing to the relationship, my advice would be to confront this behavior head-on. You can acknowledge that household chores, let’s say, are not desirable to anyone, but the expectation is that both of you are capable and willing to partake in those activities."

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...