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Weaponized incompetence is a relatively new term, but it describes something that has existed for ages.
Often, when people don’t want to do something, they use weaponized incompetence to get out of doing it.
What is it weaponized incompetence?
In simplest terms, it describes the behavior where one person pretends that they are incapable of doing a task so that another person will do it instead. In reality, the first person is perfectly capable of doing the task themselves, they just don’t want to do it.
In relationships, weaponized incompetence (also called strategic incompetence) is a way for your partner to manipulate you into doing chores they’d like to avoid.
This might not be as conscious or as intentional as you think. But even if your partner has been behaving this way since they were a child, it’s still manipulation. Yes, it has become normal to them, but it is definitely not fair on you, and nor should you tolerate it.
After all, even if they don’t know how to do something as efficiently as you could, what’s stopping them from learning and practicing?
You’ll soon learn about the ways you could deal with this behavior. But, let’s first explore some examples of strategic incompetence in action.
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4 Examples Of Weaponized Incompetence
“But I don’t know how to do it, and you do it so much better anyway.”
If you have heard sentences like this, they’re not as innocent as they sound. Your partner could be avoiding doing their fair share. Here are some examples of strategic incompetence that you might have noticed in your relationship:
1. They say that they don’t know how to do the task.
Your partner insists that they don’t know how to use the washing machine or iron the clothes. So, you find it easier to do these things yourself.
How hard is it to learn these things though? Have they even ever shown an interest in learning them?
Every adult should be capable of living on their own even if they don’t have to. This, among other things, means that they should be capable of using the appliances and doing the household chores.
Weaponized incompetence can, however, be used beyond household chores, and it can be used by both men and women alike. It could relate to anything that your partner doesn’t know how to do, so you do it for them.
Granted, they might genuinely not know how to do these things. However, what’s stopping them from learning them?
And, if a certain task really is too difficult for them, do they do their fair share by tackling something else? Probably not.
2. They do the task badly.
Your partner might have discovered something when they were very young. They had to clean their room, and they hated doing it. When they did a bad job at it, their parent took over and did the job for them.
After they repeatedly failed to do it properly, they didn’t have to do it anymore because their parent did it better. This made them realize something: if they don’t do a great job at something, someone else will do it for them. So, they started purposely doing things badly so that they could get out of doing them at all.
Maybe you do a lot of things for them because you want things done right, and you know that they won’t do it right.
This is a big mistake that’s only encouraging their manipulative behavior. Let them do a bad job instead and teach them how to do it properly. Show them that they have to do it even if they don’t do it right.
Don’t worry, with time, they’ll learn to do it just as efficiently as you do. But they have to be aware that no one else is going to do it for them.
3. They wait for you to do a the task instead of them.
Do you always take over when your partner doesn’t do their share of the work? If the tasks get done anyway, putting off doing them is a great way to avoid doing them at all.
As long as your partner knows that the job will get done, they’d rather let you do it than do it themselves.
Again, it’s a huge mistake to do things instead of your partner when they don’t do it themselves or don’t do a great job at it. You’re enabling them to use weaponized incompetence to get out of doing things.
What if the job doesn’t get done at all if they don’t do it themselves? It would force them to do their tasks and try to do them as efficiently as possible.
What if they were living alone? No one would clean the dishes and wash the laundry instead of them. They would have to do these things on their own, and you can bet that they would know how to do them right.
4. They say that you do the task better than them.
It’s flattering to hear that you’re better at doing something than the other person. However, this is not a compliment; it’s a way to avoid doing things.
Your partner might be telling you that you do a much better job so they’d rather let you do it properly than do it poorly themselves. At the moment, this sounds perfectly reasonable and rational to you. So, you do the task, but you end up doing everything for them while they enjoy their laziness.
Do you really care so much about how well things are going to get done? Are you certain that your partner wouldn’t be able to do them as efficiently as you do? Are those things really that complicated? Could they learn to do them just as well as you do?
Don’t assume that your partner is incapable of doing a good job. They might just be trying to avoid doing it altogether.
As you already learned, they might even be doing a bad job at it on purpose. So, stop doing things for them and make them do them themselves, even if they fail at it the first few times.
14 Ways To Deal With Weaponized Incompetence
Have you recognized your partner’s behavior in some of the previous examples? If so, you’re probably dealing with weaponized incompetence.
You can’t ignore this problem forever, and if you do, it’s not going to go away.
It might take some effort to get your partner to act like a capable adult, but don’t forget that they are that. They’re just pretending that they’re incapable of doing things so that they don’t have to do them.
Here’s how you can deal with that:
1. Consider whether it’s really weaponized incompetence.
First things first. Your partner might be genuinely afraid of not doing the job right or even be incapable of doing it properly. This is especially true if the task in question could have negative consequences if not done right.
For instance, some people are scared of hurting the baby if they give her a bath. Or perhaps your partner is afraid of losing the dog if they take it for a walk.
Consider whether your partner simply lacks the confidence to do the tasks that they should be doing.
However, don’t let it slide even if that is so. You can still teach them, encourage them, or do it with them… not instead of them.
Also, chores can be divided by your likes and dislikes, but more on that later. The important thing is that you’re not the only one doing everything while your partner lies on the couch.
Consider whether they’re using strategic incompetence to make you do things for them. Unless there’s a very valid explanation for why they can’t do it, assume that they are perfectly capable.
Keep in mind that they should be capable of doing something even if they’re not faking incompetence.
2. Take it seriously.
You might be tempted to brush situations such as these off like they’re not a big deal, but take weaponized incompetence very seriously.
It’s not normal that only one partner does everything, even if it has started to seem that way. It will take some effort to resolve this, so you must be willing to do what it takes.
Sure, it can seem easier to just do things yourself, but an unequal division of chores shouldn’t be taken lightly
When your partner uses strategic incompetence, it might even seem funny or cute. However, in reality, it is stressful and unfair. If you minimize the issue, you’ll be stuck with it for as long as you’re together.
In addition, you’ll be setting a bad example for the other members of the household, especially children. For instance, they could learn that it’s normal that the woman does everything around the house while the man only works at his job. But it is not normal and shouldn’t be, even if it is the other way around. There needs to be a fair balance, and you should be equals.
3. Identify why they’re doing it.
When approaching a problem such as this, it’s good to try to get to the root of it. Why does your partner feel like they can’t do what they should be doing?
Maybe there are some tasks that they aren’t comfortable with doing. That can be okay, and you can divide the chores according to your likes and dislikes.
Maybe they genuinely feel like they aren’t capable of performing a certain task. You could help them overcome this. Consider how you could encourage them to at least try to do these things.
Prepare yourself for the conversation that you’ll have with them. You shouldn’t blame them or be judgmental. Maybe they’re afraid of doing some tasks because of the arguments that result from them doing them. Think things through before confronting them about it.
4. Confront them about it.
You should be understanding and considerate to your partner, but you shouldn’t let this slide. Confront your partner about it and let them know how you feel about their behavior.
For instance, you could say that you sometimes feel like a single parent because you’re taking care of the kids all on your own. As harsh as this sounds, if it’s true, your partner should be aware of it and take it seriously.
Be aware that your partner will probably try to explain themselves. They’ll say that they’re afraid that they won’t do a good job or that they don’t know how to do it.
Make sure to point out that you’re not looking for perfection. You’re just looking for some effort. People get better at things that they repeatedly try to do well. It’s that simple.
No one was born with the knowledge to do things. After all, you learned how to do these things too. And you learned it by trying, which is all you’re asking your partner to do.
Be aware that your partner might initially agree with you but then go back to their usual behavior. Don’t give up, keep calling it out whenever it happens.
5. Make a list of tasks.
It’s usually not a good idea to keep track of who contributes what to the relationship. However, in this case, it’s incredibly useful to make a list of tasks and note who does which ones.
You are not going to be doing this long-term, so it’s not like you’re keeping score. You’re only determining the current division of labor so that you can both become aware of it and improve it.
Sometimes things become clear only when they are written down. Your partner might be surprised to learn how much you’re doing compared to them. Once you’ve made the list, talk about how you could edit it. Having a list of tasks that need to be done will come in very useful for the next step too.
6. Talk about likes and dislikes and negotiate.
Everyone has some chores that they really don’t like doing. That’s okay because maybe the other person doesn’t mind doing that chore.
However, that other person might also have something that they hate doing that the first person might not hate so much.
Talk about the chores and negotiate who will tackle which ones. Your partner can hate some chores, but they certainly can’t hate all of them.
If they really don’t want to do something, they should tell you that honestly. You can still make things work because there are surely some things that they don’t hate so much.
However, don’t make it all about accommodating them. Make sure that you’re both satisfied with the new division of labor. You can still do some things for them, but they have to make up for it by doing something else. Talk honestly about your likes and dislikes when it comes to chores.
7. Talk about the consequences.
The problem with strategic incompetence isn’t purely that you’re doing all the work. It could also lead to a lot of resentment and distrust. In addition, it could lead to burnout.
Weaponized incompetence is actually about lying to your partner by pretending that you’re incapable of doing things. So, it’s a form of deception, manipulation, and dishonesty. It’s as bad as if they were lying to you about being interested in someone else. And it could have consequences that are just as serious.
A fair division of chores is just as important for a healthy relationship as physical intimacy and regular dates. It impacts your love just as much. A fair division of chores is an act of love and empathy. If your partner can’t give you that, they are hurting you just like if they were lying about something else.
8. Teach them to do things.
Maybe they really don’t know how to do a certain task, but have they even tried? Are they interested in learning how to do it? Have you tried teaching them?
It’s really not that hard to learn how to do something properly. You just have to be willing to try several times until you get it right. Try to explain that to your partner without sounding argumentative.
Let them know that you’re willing to help them as much as possible. Try to teach them even if they don’t ask you to do it. Just remember that you can’t take over if they don’t do it right. Let them fail a few times and try again.
As already mentioned, we get better at things by repeatedly trying to do them. The important thing is that they’re trying, and that’s all you can ask of them. Let them know that and help them understand.
9. Work as a team.
The two of you should work as a team. It’s okay that you’re better at one thing if they’re better at something else. You can even do some things together. Cooking and cleaning together could strengthen the connection you have, as well as get the job done faster.
If you share a home, taking care of it is the responsibility of both of you, and you can do it together. So think about which things you can do with your partner instead of for them.
Maybe you sometimes think that it will be faster and easier to do it by yourself, but it’s not. Especially in the long run. Let them do it or do it together.
This is important for your relationship, and you can’t keep doing everything on your own anyway. Find some things that you can do together and agree to do them as a couple. You don’t have to do them at the same time either. Maybe your partner can do the dishes after a meal if you’ve cooked it and the other way around.
You should aim to make each other happy. One of the ways to do that is trying to make your loved one’s life a little easier. Your partner should want to do that.
10. Say “no” sometimes.
Don’t be afraid to say no to your partner. If they ask you to do something instead of them, say no and stand your ground.
When you agree that they’re the ones who should do a certain chore, forget about doing it yourself. They might try to convince you to “do it just this one time” and soon you’ll be back to doing it all the time. They might even have a hundred excuses for why they can’t do it.
Tell them something like: “No, we agreed that you should do it, so either you are going to do it, or no one is.”
Learn to say no to your partner, and don’t let them manipulate you into going back to the way things were before.
11. Set boundaries and stick to them.
Setting boundaries and saying “no” to your partner isn’t the hard part. The hard part is sticking to them.
Don’t back down and go back to the way things were before. If they realize that they can get away with it again, rest assured that they will try to.
Even if you’ve had a great conversation and agreed on everything, they might try to go back to weaponized incompetence at the earliest opportunity. In fact, they probably will, especially if they’ve been doing it since childhood.
Stick to your boundaries, and don’t let them break them. Don’t let them make you do something that you’ve agreed is their responsibility. If it’s a living creature like a child or a pet, you’ll probably have to do those things if they don’t. But for everything else, leave it as it is and don’t clean up after them.
Keep calling it out when they use weaponized incompetence again so that they realize that they can’t get away with it anymore.
12. Keep reminding yourself that your partner is capable of doing things.
What if they don’t do the tasks and expect everything to magically get in order like it used to?
Well, what if it doesn’t magically happen and just stays there, waiting for them to do it?
You don’t have to do the chore that they didn’t do just because it needs to get done. Leave the dirty dishes in the sink if you’ve agreed that they’ll do them. The dishes could be there for days, but don’t do them instead of your partner. Make them realize how seriously you’re taking this.
They could start avoiding things by postponing them until you do them. Don’t let this happen. The dirty dishes might bother you, but eventually, they’ll bother them too. And it’s not your job to clean them if you’ve agreed that it’s their chore. So, they’ll eventually have to do it.
It would be much better if it doesn’t come to this waiting game. But, if it has to, it’s better than letting them behave the way they did. Once they realize that you’re not going to clean up after them even if the house smells bad, they’ll have to snap out of it.
13. Don’t do things instead of them.
This is important to emphasize once again. Don’t do things instead of them just because it’s easier than confronting them. If you do, you’ll always have this problem, and it’s a serious problem that’s damaging your relationship.
You deserve better, and you need to be persistent to get it. Don’t give up on a fair division of chores because it’s not your job to do everything while your partner lies on the couch.
Every adult should be capable of taking care of themselves. Otherwise, they need a parent, not a partner.
The thing is, they probably already are capable; they are just lazy. Put a stop to weaponized incompetence once and for all and demand a fair division of labor.
14. Talk to the professionals.
Unfortunately, you might not manage to resolve this problem all on your own. Don’t despair though, because there are people who are trained to help you.
You could talk to a relationship counselor and explain your situation to them. They could give you more ways to deal with the problem on your own or talk to you and your partner together.
A good place to get relationship help is the website Relationship Hero – here, you’ll be able to talk to a relationship expert via video, phone, or instant message to get the tailored advice you need.
And if you are struggling to discuss this issue with your partner – either because you don’t know how to bring it up or because the conversation goes downhill rapidly when you do – a relationship counselor can provide that safe space for more productive dialogue to occur. Click here to learn more about the service Relationship Hero offer or to talk to someone now.
If your partner has been using strategic incompetence ever since they were a child, they’ll probably need the help of a therapist. Encourage them to seek that help and work on themselves for the sake of your relationship, especially if you have children.
In terms of therapy, you should check out the online services provided by the website BetterHelp.com – they offer remote therapy that’s also conducted via phone, video, or chat.
You shouldn’t feel like a single parent if your children have a mother/father too. The household isn’t purely your responsibility either. So, let a trained professional help you find balance and equality in your relationship.
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