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This Seemingly Innocent Habit Can Create Extreme Imbalance In Relationships

Weaponized incompetence is a behavior pattern where one partner pretends to be bad at simple tasks to get out of shared responsibilities. It can look like not being able to step up with child care appointments because they say they can’t remember the name of the doctor, not giving the cat a bath because they don’t know how to groom them afterward, or not helping out with party planning because they don’t think they’re great at details. Whatever the case may be, the message comes across loud and clear: I don’t want to do it, so you do it.

“The reason it is weaponized is because the partner places the responsibility back onto the other partner to complete the tasks, and it is intended for them to complete for future occasions,” psychotherapist and certified couples’ therapist Lee Phillips, Ed.D., LCSW, CST, tells mbg.

Here’s how licensed clinical psychologist Holly Schiff, Psy.D., defines the concept: “Weaponized incompetence is when your partner attempts to avoid doing unpleasant tasks by pretending not to be able to do them, doing them poorly, or just being incompetent. This forces you to have to do it by yourself and pick up the slack. Over time, this will create a lot of additional mental baggage and workload, which will cause relationship tension, friction, and stress.”

These actions perpetuate a flawed dynamic in the relationship: By feigning mediocrity, the incompetent partner actively shows they aren’t genuine in their attempts to be better or do better. Meanwhile, the other partner is forced to step up and take over those tasks, creating resentment because they feel unseen and taken for granted. Indeed, in a 2016 study, researchers studied 6,300 different-sex couples and noted couples’ division of labor–paid and unpaid–was more highly associated with the risk of divorce than any other economic factor.

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