Weaponized Incompetence: The Relationship Buzzword You NEED to Know (& How to Address It)

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A woman looking at a man who's using weaponized incompetence
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Summary: Confused by your partner's or coworker's sudden cluelessness? Weaponized incompetence might be the culprit. Learn how to address it and transform your life.

There’s nothing more frustrating (it’s in the top ten, at least) than asking for a little help, and the response you get back is a shrug, a puzzled look, and a mumbled “I don’t know how to do that.” 

That, in a nutshell, is weaponized incompetence. It’s a clever tactic, really, where avoiding chores and tasks turns into an art form. One that’s less about not knowing and more about pretending to be clueless to sidestep responsibilities.

All long-term partnerships go through disappointment,” says Donna Eden, an energy medicine expert and trainer of The Energies of Love Quest. “They go through anger, and emotional riffs, and worse.”

But the thing is, if you’ve got someone “playing dumb” with you at home or in the office, it might be time to learn how to turn the tables on this frustrating behavior. 

What Is Weaponized Incompetence?

Look up the “weaponized incompetence” meaning, and you’re sure to find a not-so-secret code for when someone deliberately acts helpless or bungles tasks to avoid responsibility or manipulate you into doing them. Also known as strategic incompetence, it’s one heck of a passive-aggressive behavior.

While it might seem like harmless laziness, it can wreak havoc on your relationship. And it can leave you feeling resentful and undervalued.

What’s more, evidence shows that relationships are more likely to end where the housework is unbalanced, particularly when the woman of the house takes on more. Even in the office, one study found that employees who feel their workload is fair are more satisfied with their jobs.

Although weaponized incompetence can be a form of emotional warfare, the person using it might not even realize they’re doing it. They might even genuinely believe they’re not good at certain tasks, or they might be hoping to avoid feeling obligated to do chores they find tedious.

But the effect is the same: It creates an uneven workload and leaves you feeling like you’re shouldering most of the burden.

Weaponized incompetence vs. learned helplessness

There’s a similarity between weaponized incompetence and learned helplessness: both end up not doing tasks. However, the reasons behind them are quite different.

  • Weaponized incompetence: The person knows how to do the task but chooses not to. Their goal is to manipulate you, not express genuine helplessness.
  • Learned helplessness: This is a psychological condition where someone repeatedly experiences negative outcomes and stops trying, believing their efforts are futile.

What does that look like? If your partner struggles with a new task and genuinely wants to learn, that’s learned helplessness. But if they play the ignorance card, especially if they’ve done it before, that’s weaponized incompetence.

Signs and Examples

In what ways can this deliberate avoidance of tasks manifest itself? There are some common signs, plus weaponized incompetence examples, to watch out for:

Signs of weaponized incompetence
  • They suddenly (and conveniently) “forget” things. Birthdays, anniversaries, or parent-teacher meetings tend to slip their minds, but they never miss a sports game or a night out with friends. “I’m just bad with dates” becomes a get-out-of-jail-free card.
  • They have selective competence, excelling at tasks they enjoy but fumbling at the ones they don’t. Like only washing the plates and cups but leaving the pots and pans in the sink. “Pots and pans just aren’t my thing,” they shrug, leaving the sink in a pile of chaos.
  • They always seem to misunderstand you. I thought this is what you wanted,” they say with a bewildered look. And no matter how meticulously you explain how you want something done, they consistently misinterpret or “forget” crucial details, leading to subpar results.
  • They use the ol’ guilt trip play, completing tasks poorly and then playing the victim, so you end up feeling guilty for asking. They might “accidentally” shrink your favorite shirt in the dryer and claim, “But… I followed the instructions,” eyes wide with innocence. They look so genuinely upset that you find yourself becoming the people-pleaser and comforting them, doll-sized shirt forgotten.

Passive-aggressive people, like those who use weaponized incompetence, tend to have a hard time overtly expressing anger, according to Dr. Laura Berman, a well-known relationship therapist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Quantum Love: The Blueprint for Extraordinary Relationships Quest. So they do so more…well, passive aggressively.

So if you want any chance of transforming your relationship, love or work-wise, recognizing these patterns of manipulation is crucial.

Who Uses It the Most and Why?

There’s no gender bias when it comes to weaponized incompetence. However, research suggests that it shows up more where traditional gender roles exist.

A Pew Research Center study found that women in heterosexual relationships “pick up a heavier load when it comes to household chores and caregiving responsibilities.” This imbalance can cause resentment on the part of women, which, then, may lead some men to use this sneaky tactic to avoid additional chores.

With that being said, it’s also important to remember that anyone, regardless of their gender, may resort to weaponized incompetence. It could be out of laziness, a desire to maintain control, or that they simply get out of uncomfortable conversations about whatever tasks are at hand.

The thing is, though, that the key to conflict management and balancing out the dynamics is to understand the “why” behind the behavior. 

Colleagues with their hands in their pockets dealing with weaponized incompetence in an office

How to Deal With Weaponized Incompetence: 3 Tips From Relationship Experts

Just because you’re dealing with such passive-aggressive behavior doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr to the mess. 

As Donna says, “If your relationship is not going well at the moment, know this is not only normal; it is one of those inconvenient opportunities to deepen your relationship.”

So whether it’s weaponized incompetence in the workplace or at home, here are three expert-backed tips to get you through to the other side.

1. Disarm your stress reactions

No doubt, arguments, especially about household chores or work tasks, can trigger even the most patient of people. This is because our brains are wired with the fight-or-flight response that kicks in during stressful situations. And while it’s meant to keep us safe from danger, it can hurt our relationships.

So how do you disarm these primal instincts so that you can communicate more effectively? Donna has some tips:

  • Recognize when you’re reacting out of instinct rather than logic. Does a simple chore discussion turn into a full-blown argument? This might be a sign of your primal response taking control.
  • Use the Triple Warmer Smoothie, a technique that involves gentle touches and movements on specific pressure points. This’ll essentially signal to your body that you’re safe and there’s no need for a fight-or-flight response.
  • Have empathy for the other person. Remember, they might also be experiencing their own primal instincts during disagreements.

If your husband (or wife) uses weaponized incompetence as a primal panic reaction, taking it personally misses the point, according to Donna. “Rather than becoming defensive and fighting or fleeing, compassion is the medicine your relationship needs at that moment.”

2. Set a clear and positive intention for your conversation

Communication is key when frustrations over undone chores or tasks bubble up. But setting a positive intention is equally important.

This’ll help steer the conversation towards solutions rather than blame. Here’s how to use this powerful tool:

  • Think about what you truly want from your relationship, such as greater understanding, patience, or more shared moments of fun. Consider how these desires align with your and your partner’s love languages—whether it’s words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, or physical touch.
  • Share these intentions with your partner. Your stated intention can be focused more on yourself, on your relationship, or on both,” says Donna. But the most important thing is, when you both know what the other is aiming for, it makes it easier to support each other.
  • Use reminders to keep your intentions at the front of your mind. This could be a note on the fridge, a daily alarm on your phone, or a simple bracelet that reminds you of your commitment. 

One major thing to keep in mind is to be flexible. Life throws curveballs, and what you intended at the start of the year might not fit later on. It’s okay to adjust your intentions as you both grow and change.

3. Take responsibility for your own part

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “It takes two to tango.” And in any relationship dynamic, even one with weaponized incompetence, it can help to focus on taking responsibility for your own part.

This doesn’t mean excusing the other person’s passive-aggressive behavior, oh no. Rather, it acknowledges that conflicts often involve contributions from both sides. 

The fact of the matter is, when you point the finger and get stuck in a “victim-villain-hero” cycle (feeling helpless, attacking, or rescuing), it’s hard to find solutions. And when you’re so convinced you’re right and they’re wrong, it can lead to feelings of victimhood, blame, and a constant struggle for control.

So, how do you break free? Dr. Berman suggests self-reflection. 

When you catch yourself wanting to roll your eyes over something your partner says or does,” she says, “the idea is to stop and ask yourself, ‘Huh, why is this resonating with me in this way? What is my reaction telling me about me?’

This allows you to understand what triggers you and what your boundaries are, and to take responsibility for your part. As a result, you can break the cycle of your people-pleasing tendencies and move towards a healthier, more balanced relationship.

Love Deeper, Connect Stronger

Recognizing patterns like weaponized incompetence or other challenging traits in your relationship can be the first step toward profound change.

With Mindvalley’s unique programs, such as Donna Eden’s The Energies of Love Quest and Dr. Laura Berman’s Quantum Love: The Blueprint for Extraordinary Relationships Quest, you’re invited to explore the depths of connection and communication.

The great thing is, these courses offer free classes on enhancing relationships—be it love or work. And they equip you with the tools and techniques to deeply understand each other, feel heard and appreciated, and navigate through conflicts to find your way back to energetic harmony and quantum love.

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Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Written by

Tatiana Azman

Tatiana Azman is the SEO content editor for Mindvalley and a certified life coach. With a background in spa and wellness as well as having gone through a cancer experience, she's constantly on the lookout for natural, effective ways that help with one's overall well-being.
Dr. Laura Berman
Expertise by

Dr. Laura Berman is the trainer for the upcoming Quantum Love: The Blueprint for Extraordinary Relationships Quest on Mindvalley, where she teaches how to use your body’s energy for better relationships, drawing on quantum physics principles.

A well-known American relationship therapist and TV host, she leads “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on the Oprah Winfrey Network and appears on The Dr. Oz Show. Additionally, she hosts the nationally syndicated radio program, “Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman.”

Expertise by

Donna Eden is the trainer of Mindvalley’s Energy Medicine and The Energies of Love quests. She also happens to be the world’s leading energy medicine pioneer and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author whose books on energy medicine are often used as reference material by other energy healing and health practitioners.

With the life mission of bringing energy healing to public consciousness, Donna Eden has certified more than 5,000 people as “Eden Energy Medicine” practitioners and more than 100,000 students (including many physicians, nurses, and other mainstream health professionals) have been impacted by her wisdom.

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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.

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Mindvalley is committed to providing reliable and trustworthy content. 

We rely heavily on evidence-based sources, including peer-reviewed studies and insights from recognized experts in various personal growth fields. Our goal is to keep the information we share both current and factual. 

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To learn more about our dedication to reliable reporting, you can read our detailed editorial standards.