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 not only is the kitchen an absolute disaster, but the vegetables that were supposed to be sautéing are entirely scorched. “I’m just not as good at it as you are,” your husband laments. And just like that, it’s your job again. This, friends, is an example of weaponized incompetence.
If you’ve been on TikTok (or Instagram Reels) in the past few months, 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 Alison LaSov, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and CEO of Advekit, a platform that helps match people to therapists.
1. What is weaponized incompetence?
LaSov: 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. 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.
2. What are some warning signs to look out for in your relationship?
LaSov: Nobody particularly likes chores or being asked to do tasks, but there’s an expectation to put in 50 percent of the work into your partnership—at least there should be. 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. 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.
3. Is this a new phenomenon, or have social media platforms like TikTok just made more people aware of it?
LaSov: In my opinion, this is absolutely not a new phenomenon, but it’s been given a label that makes the behavior more identifiable. 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 an issue in your relationship, what are some steps you can take to hold your partner accountable?
LaSov: The first thing that you can 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. 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.