We’ve all got the categories our loved ones live under: the one who over-worries, spills the tea or always comes over with baked goods (the best kind of friend, of course). But is there someone in your life you just know you can’t rely on? Whether they complain about doing the most trivial tasks or get out of it by not knowing how to do it, it’s as if there’s always an excuse for them not to come through.

Beyond deflecting or other narcissistic traits, there are always red flags to look out for in our romantic relationships. Weaponized incompetence is making its rounds as something to be very aware of in our relational dynamics, and it’s sinister enough to disguise itself easily, so you may not even know you’re dealing with it.

What Is Weaponized Incompetence?

In its simplest terms, weaponized incompetence is a behavioral pattern in which a person consistently pretends to be bad at or confused about a mundane task, using that as an excuse to avoid doing it.

This can look like avoiding doing the cooking, even though they could easily learn or attempt a recipe, or saying they prefer the way you clean instead, even though it would take a load off of you if they stepped up. From doing household chores to planning dates, they always find a way out using feigned inability.

This can be the friend who never makes the plans but always shows up, or the coworker who never knows how to use the fax machine but relies on you to do it. Though this pattern of behavior can be found in professional, familial and platonic dynamics, you typically see it played out within romantic relationships.

Red Flags To Look Out For

This psychological tactic can be especially disheartening to discover in your partnership. If you’re not quite sure whether or not you’re dealing with someone using weaponized incompetence to take advantage of you, here are some signs to look out for:

  • “Forgetting” to do tasks clearly communicated to them
  • Telling you you’re better at the boring or mundane task
  • Doing the task overtly incorrectly
  • Enjoying the fruits of everyone’s labor without contributing

If you feel abandoned, alone or manipulated, you could be dealing with weaponized incompetence. While it may be happening subconsciously, that doesn’t make it any less unfair.

How To Deal With Weaponized Incompetence 

Dealing with weaponized incompetence can wear on a relationship, especially when it feels like one partner is taking on a much heavier workload. This can lead them to feeling taken advantage of, underappreciated and undervalued. 

It can be especially dangerous in a coparenting dynamic, in which the parent using weaponized incompetence uses being the “fun parent” as an excuse to avoid confrontation or more emotionally and physically taxing tasks.

While instilling boundaries isn’t always the easiest, especially if you’re unlearning people pleasing habits, it’s crucial for navigating this kind of dynamic. Start by communicating how their weaponized incompetence makes you feel, then follow up with the boundaries necessary to restore balance and equity. Maybe you draw out an evenly-divided responsibility schedule, or put aside some time to teach them what they claim to not know.

It’s important to make sure these firmly set boundaries are reinforced, so do your best not to follow through if they still end up leaving the tasks on your shoulders. Even if the dishes pile up or a to-do task is left unchecked, they’ll be just as uncomfortable and forced to confront their avoidance.

Don’t Be a Victim

If left unaddressed, weaponized incompetence can lead to resentment, and it’s difficult for a relationship to bounce back from that. If you recognize it in your relational dynamic, talk it out and enforce the necessary boundaries with love and compassion, setting you both free.