Housebreaking Lazy Husbands

It's a familiar story for many couples: A husband says he's doing his share of the chores but his wife is convinced she's being stuck with the bulk of the housework.

"20/20" followed two couples to see who was really doing the work around the house, and then had an expert weigh in on how to improve the situation.

Nancy Arsenault of Stow, Mass., is a stay-at-home mom who has her hands full taking care of her four young kids. Her husband Scott works full time as an air traffic controller. When "20/20" went to visit her, Nancy always seemed to be out of breath. But Scott happened to be out on a bike ride.

Nancy said it's OK, but she's left doing all the housework. "I do cooking, cleaning, laundry, dressing, changing, decorating the house," said Nancy.

When Scott returned from his ride, he took a shower and surfed the Internet while Nancy made dinner and watched the kids.

"She thinks that I like to waste a lot of time. But I spend a lot of that time thinking," said Scott. Nancy said she would appreciate it if he would offer, for example, to fold some laundry while watching a football game.

"If I sit down and watch TV, I'm decompressing," said Scott. "I'm not folding laundry."

Scott says he is not lazy, and that Nancy is too impatient. When she asks him to do something, she'll get it started before he has a chance to finish, he said.

Napping or Cooking Dinner?

Some people might say that since Nancy is a stay-at-home mom, it's not surprising that she does most of the parenting and housework. But families where both parents work can also have issues about who should do the chores.

Fran Carpentier has a full-time job as a senior editor at Parade magazine and her husband, Ira, is a doctor. They each have demanding jobs, but most nights she cooks dinner while Ira heads to the den to nap. Ira says he is exhausted by working long hours at the hospital. "He falls asleep on the couch for like an hour," said Ben, their 10-year-old son.

"Once he walks in through the door, he goes into his own zone," said Fran. "He needs to decompress, and I can respect that, but I don't think anyone has to decompress that much, even if they've been in outer space for a month."

Fran also does most of the shopping, cleaning and cooking but while she's working at home, Ira rests. "He doesn't even refill the water container!" said Fran.

Ira insisted it isn't that bad, and says he helps around the house as the "fix-it guy." He also notes that sometimes he does some chores, but Fran often finishes the job and says he's not doing it correctly.

Fran said he enjoys it because he can read while the clothes are tumbling.

Expert Advice: Step One Is to Show Gratitude

Fed up with doing all the housework, Fran and Nancy volunteered their husbands to participate in a "20/20" report about lazy husbands.

"There is something that happens to a man once that ring goes on the finger," said Fran. "It's like Donna Reed. We're back 30 years."

"20/20" brought Joshua Coleman, the author of "Lazy Husbands," to help out.

Coleman had some tough talk for both Ira and Scott. "You can get a 10-minute nap, but you can't take a two-hour nap," he told Ira.

Coleman asked each couple if they show appreciation for what their spouse does. Ira and Fran said they seldom did. Scott also admitted he wasn't good at showing he appreciated Nancy.

Coleman told both couples to thank each other every day and show them more affection by greeting each other by hugging and kissing every day.

"It makes each person feel like, 'OK, we're in this together. We care about each other,' " said Coleman. He said many wives didn't mind doing most of the parenting and housework if their husbands expressed their gratitude.

"What most guys don't realize is that if they made a little bit of change in the direction that their wives are asking them to make, their marriages would be so much better," said Coleman. "Men who do more housework are associated with wives who want to have more sex."

Less Criticism, More 'Date Nights'

Coleman gave the couples specific homework assignments. He told Fran and Ira to thank each other more and to make time for a weekly date. He told Fran to be careful of her language and to criticize Ira less. He told Ira spend more time with his son, and relieve Fran of cooking once a week.

Coleman gave Nancy and Scott similar advice, encouraging them to be more romantic and divide up the housework. They should make a chore list and give Scott more to do, he said.

"If you guys don't get track of this stuff, you could wake up five or 10 years down the line with a marriage that's beyond resuscitation," said Coleman.

"I'm very hopeful about Fran and Ira. I'm a little bit more worried about Scott and Nancy," Coleman admitted.

Good Advice, But Did it Work?

Coleman found Fran and Ira were taking some of his suggestions, and that things were better than before. Ira was pitching in 10 percent to 15 percent more, Fran said.

"I have to say, he's really been so much more helpful -- especially making breakfast on weekends when he's home," said Fran.

Ira has spent more time with his son and the couple has started to plan date nights. He's also been napping a little less.

But the Arsenaults report even bigger changes.

"It's been good. There's been some pressure off me," said Nancy.

Nancy found one of Coleman's suggestions particularly helpful. Instead of nagging Scott, Nancy should negotiate with him, Coleman recommended. And if that doesn't work, don't do his chores for him.

Now Scott is doing much more of the housework.

And Coleman's suggestion that they make a chore list has motivated Scott to do more. But what Nancy says she appreciates most is that Scott's doing much more with the kids.

And they're back to hugging and kissing -- what started out as an assignment has become a sweet part of their day.

Now that they're sharing responsibilities more, Nancy and Scott are a much happier couple. Even the kids, they say, have noticed a difference. In fact, they say this is the best point in their marriage since their honeymoon.