2 Ways ‘Weaponized Incompetence’ Might Be Hurting Your Relationship

Weaponized incompetence, also known as strategic incompetence, refers to the deliberate feigning of incompetence to avoid certain tasks or responsibilities.

This strategy is sometimes used by men in relationships to avoid certain chores, housework or parenting tasks. By continually pretending to be incompetent, they strategically push their partner to stop delegating tasks to them, thus leaving the task up to their partner, creating a disproportionate division of domestic labor.

Many people suffering through this ordeal come to therapy feeling like the division of housework or chores between them and their partner isn’t equal. They may say things like:

  • “I want to ask my partner for more help around the house, but I always end up having to explain how to do it or just doing it myself.”
  • “Even when my partner does help out with housework, I usually have to look over their shoulder while they do it. If I don’t, then I’ll probably have to redo the housework myself.”
  • “I feel like my partner is lying about their ability to perform basic housework, but I’m not sure what to do about it.”

A study found that since Covid-19 and the rise of remote work, the boundaries between work and housework have become increasingly blurred, and women are often left with shouldering the burden of domestic work. This burden can be exacerbated by having a partner that uses weaponized incompetence.

For instance, a woman might be feeling overwhelmed with housework and ask her partner to step in and prepare dinner. Using strategic incompetence, her partner might say, “Remember how I messed last week’s dinner up? It’d probably be best if you just did it.” This leaves her with an extra task on top of her existing roster of responsibilities.

While weaponized incompetence might seem like a benign and convenient way to temporarily shirk off responsibility, the long-term negative effects it has on your bond cannot be understated. Here are two of its unhelpful effects.

1. Strategic Incompetence Can Lead To A Dead Bedroom

A 2022 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that women with male partners who do not equally contribute to household labor express lower sexual desire for their partners.

Being with a partner who creates a facade of incompetence to avoid housework may make an individual feel more like a parent than a partner in their relationship.

When two people stay together solely because one is responsible for fulfilling the other’s needs, the conversation about wants, desires and fantasies is often forgone. It is not hard to imagine why one wouldn’t find themselves attracted to someone who needs their partner to take care of them.

In this way, a relationship’s sex life often becomes the first victim of a partner’s weaponized incompetence.

2. Weaponized Incompetence Makes Your Relationship Routine

Male partners may sometimes use weaponized incompetence to avoid engaging in housework that is considered stereotypically feminine, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping or child care. Similarly, female partners may do the same to avoid stereotypically masculine housework, such as repairs, lifting, shoveling and painting.

A 2016 study found that partners may experience stress, worry or feelings of inadequacy when faced with disproportionate divisions of domestic labor in their relationship. By using strategic incompetence to shift the responsibility of stereotypically gendered housework to your partner, you may be causing them undue feelings of stress, disappointment or exhaustion.

Sticking to the script of gendered labor can hurt your relationship in other ways. For instance, executing tasks of a specific nature might hinder holistic individual growth. You might end up reinforcing stereotypical gender roles to your children.

Finally, performing the same labor again and again can slowly sap away at the spirit of novelty and experimentation that fuels the health of any relationship. While doing what is expected of you is important, learning how to drive a stick shift or teaching your partner how to cook your favorite meal can add an additional layer of fulfillment to your relationship.

How to cope with a partner who feigns incompetence?

If your partner is continually leaving tasks they claim to be incapable of performing up to you, here are some tips on how to start a healthy conversation with them regarding the division of domestic labor:

  • Be specific. Give your partner concrete examples of how their feigned incompetence has affected you or your relationship, and explain how they made you feel. These examples will help your partner better understand how their behavior might be negatively impacting you or your relationship.
  • Avoid blaming or accusing your partner. Instead of making judgments, being passive aggressive or attacking your partner’s character, try to focus on your partner’s behavior instead. Placing blame on your partner may escalate their use of weaponized incompetence.
  • Set boundaries. Once you have illustrated how your partner’s feigned incompetence is causing strain, you can both begin discussing and establishing boundaries and expectations regarding the sharing of household responsibilities.
  • Be consistent. Once you both agree on these boundaries and expectations, be clear in explaining the consequences of continuing to feign incompetence. Don’t give in to the desire to please your partner to avoid stress or confrontation; be consistent in enforcing the agreed boundaries and consequences of unequal distributions of labor.


Setting boundaries and engaging in open conversation regarding the distribution of domestic labor is essential for maintaining a healthy and functional relationship. If this seems too daunting, reaching out to a couples’ therapist or counselor can also help get you and your partner back on track.



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