Weaponized Responsibility Is the New Weaponized Incompetence

“But I was doing the dishes!”

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You’re likely familiar with the concept of weaponized incompetence, i.e, when one partner in a relationship feigns incompetence (“but you’re so much better at cooking than me!”) so they won't be asked to do the task again. But have you heard about its ugly cousin, weaponized responsibility?

Coined by self-proclaimed “recovering manchild” and relationship goals consultant Zachary Watson, weaponized responsibility might look a little something like this: Let’s say the baby has just woken up from her nap and is screaming bloody murder. You’re all out of diapers in the nursery so you rush downstairs and realize the spares are in the car. You look over at your husband—who is busy replacing a broken door hinge—and try to communicate over the noise that you need help. When you end up snapping at him, he’s confused. But I was taking care of the house, he exclaims. And sure, home maintenance is important. But what would have really helpful would have been for him to stop what he was doing and go to the car for more diapers.

Essentially, weaponized responsibility is when a partner prioritizes the things on their checklist, instead of your joint checklist.

“In the past, I’ve prioritized the things that are on my checklist, they’re on my chores list, before the ones that we share,” Watson explains in an Instagram video. “There’s this air of righteousness that I’m really doing something important here. Meanwhile it’s really that it’s on my checklist, but not our checklist, and so I’m being selfish. I’m weaponizing my responsibility for the house above the needs of the rest of the family.”

Need more examples? Remember that time you invited 16 people over and thirty minutes before everyone arrived you were frantically tidying up the living room and making turkey chili, all while your partner was changing the car’s oil? Or the time you had to do all the packing for the family vacation because he spent the entire day working on a road trip playlist? Again—it’s not that your spouse wasn’t being helpful. It’s just that they were prioritizing the wrong thing at the wrong time.

And this happens more often than you think. “In the past 48 hours, I have had no less than three conversations about this very topic,” says Dr. Regina Lark, an expert on relationships, with a particular focus on emotional labor.

As relationship and communication expert Chloe Ballatore explains, it’s not the act itself (say, doing the dishes or changing the oil) that’s the issue—it’s how you go about these tasks. “Similar to weaponized incompetence, it's not the responsibility that's the problem, it's the weaponization of it. Weaponizing anything with your partner is a sign of bad communication,” she says.

Marriage and family therapist Claudia de Llano refers to this cycle as the overfunctioning/underfunctioning partner dynamic. “The overfunctioning partner believes they are looking out for the common good and therefore giving more importance to mutual needs rather than self-serving needs,” de Llano explains. “This person, often having the best of intentions, operates by overcompensating for what they believe their partner won’t properly attend to. This creates a vicious cycle where the overfunctioner acts by overcompensating and controlling the perceived needs, and the underfunctioner can weaponize their responsibilities as a means of avoiding the anxiety and conflict of the imbalance.”

But what to do if you feel like this is happening in your own relationship? How do you break the cycle? The first step is to figure out, together, what tasks need to get done and who is responsible for what. Watson encourages his clients to have conversations with their partners, “that much better articulate the difference between your checklist, my checklist and the checklist.” (Reminder for all the parents out there: Caring for a child is on the mutual checklist.)

Lark agrees: “Research shows that the division of labor at home is rarely equitable, and typically falls on the shoulders of one person. If you live with others, or share care-giving duties, develop an awareness about the nature, volume and value of the work.”

Next—and no surprise here—work on communication. “The key is to listen and even invite your partner’s perspective although you might feel resistance to it,” de Llano advises. “From this space, couples can begin to discuss what each person wants, and in this case, what they are open to surrendering and contributing toward a vision that is shared by both.”


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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...