Posted On October 22, 2021
You need help. It’s hard for you to ask for help but you do it. You are clear about what needs to be done and why. You trust your spouse. So, you hand the task off.
Later, you check on the progress and feel dismayed and disappointed to realize that they left a disaster.
This is so frustrating. You trusted them to make your life better, not make everything worse. This is why you:
- Never ask for help.
- Do it all yourself.
- Feel exhausted all the time.
- Have trouble trusting other people.
- Feel lonely and isolated.
- Want to run away.
Why did this happen? The experts tell you to ask for help. They tell you that those who care about you will genuinely want to help you. They instruct you to be clear about what you need. You did all that but it still didn’t work out. Before you conclude that there is something wrong with you, take a closer look at what happened.
Is this a case of Weaponized Incompetence?
Weaponized Incompetence is when a spouse (or other helper) screws up a task so you won't ask them to do it again. They put in minimal effort or act helpless so you will regret giving them the responsibility. This is different from the times when you have different standards for a task (which is a different problem). Weaponized Incompetence can be a conscious choice or driven by unconscious motives.
Why is Weaponized Incompetence a problem? In any relationship that depends on partnership, Weaponized Incompetence can ruin the relationship. When it happens, it puts more of the mental load on one partner who is expected to pick up the slack. Even tracking small details or thinking through another person’s contribution can be a heavy weight. When it is intentional, it is manipulative to shirk some of the shared work. It changes the way you think about your partner. When you think of them as incompetent, you lose confidence in them. That usually leads to treating them like a child, which is never good for a relationship.
The worst part for you is that the task now requires more work for you than if you had just done it yourself to begin with.
Why would someone who loves you make your life harder?
- It’s possible that they didn’t believe they could tell you “no.” They may know and understand that the work should be shared. Yet, they don’t want to do what you ask.
- They may have changed their mind after saying “yes.”
- They are a people pleaser who tells everyone “yes” whether they can really do it or not.
- They lack the confidence to get the job done.
- They genuinely lack the skills to do the job.
- They believe that you asked for too much.
- Laziness or entitlement.
Tips to Combat Weaponized Incompetence:
- Ask for help more often, not less. Set the expectation that your partner has obligations whether they want them or not.
- Choose small tasks before asking for big assists. Let those build up so your partner takes on more over time. Don’t get derailed if they complain about it. A complaint doesn’t mean that something needs to change.
- Let them clean up their own messes. Don’t swoop in and take over. They will learn more and faster from having to solve a problem on their own.
- Don’t give them tasks that you care a lot about how it is completed. If the details of laundry matter to you, have them do the dishes or vacuum.
- Gently call them out. Before you get mad, ask them to walk you through what happened and their logic. Listen for clues that tell you what the root of the problem is.
- If all else fails, match them in their energy. If they complain, calmly explain that you are following their example. If they would like things to be different, they will have to lead the way.
- Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. You can continue to raise the bar over time.
In my house, doing a terrible job is a sign that they need more practice to learn how to do it well. It’s not a reason to be excused from the task. As long as there isn’t a safety concern, this is a good standard rule that helps everyone understand that their contribution matters. Next time you walk in to discover a mess, don’t just take care of it yourself. Take a deep breath and take a deeper look. You can shift this trend.
Need help? Learn how Couples Coaching can transform your relationship from frustrated and agitated to a close and connected partnership.