When you’re working opposite schedules, date nights can become fantasy and arguments strictly over text. It might be time to fortify your relationship.
When couples work different shifts, it can lower their opportunities for face-to-face interaction and meaningful time together. This can ultimately make it difficult to find time to connect, communicate, and maintain intimacy.
Partners who work unusual hours may be more likely to have trouble with their relationships, marriage, and parenting.
Shift work may leave both you and your partner with more stress and some very different feelings about the health of your relationship.
Having unusual working hours is really not that unusual.
A 2017–2018 survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that around 16% of workers had work shifts outside a regular daytime schedule.
That number has likely grown in response to pandemic job losses with government shutdowns and many industries — such as food and beverage, hotel, and retail — seeing cuts in services, and thus employees.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people lost their jobs. Unemployment rates climbed to 14.7% by April 2020.
As a result, some people took on shift work that offered odd hours or shifts that put them on the clock for hours without a break — just to be able to bring home a paycheck again.
Shift work can put a strain on personal health and lead to burnout. It can also affect your relationships since folks have less time to work through issues or spend quality time together.
Here’s how you can maintain and boost your bond while working opposing schedules.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T your partner’s sleep
So, your partner has been gone all day, and now that they’re home, you want to spend time with them and not watch them sleep on the couch.
As hard as it is to lose time with them, it’s important to remember that they need to sleep, just like you do.
Sleep has been a constant focus in research, looking into how restorative sleep is and how a lack of sleep can affect your physical and mental health.
In the long term, you’re helping support their mental health and well-being by letting them sleep. In the short term, they’ll be in a much better mood when they wake up rested — and a lot less like one of Snow White’s seven companions: Sleepy, Dopey, or Grumpy.
Practice active listening
We’re all guilty of “listening” to our partners while actually being distracted by our phones. This even has a name — phubbing — meaning to snub someone with your smartphone.
Sure, you may have heard what they said, but you probably can’t remember specific details, or entire gaps of the conversation are missing while half your focus was on your phone or another screen.
When you don’t actively listen to your partner, it can send a nonverbal message that what they’re saying doesn’t beat whatever your phone has to offer. Not only can that lead to your partner feeling unsupported, but by not hearing them out, you might miss an important clue to how they’re feeling beyond their words.
A 2020 study on phubbing in married couples suggests that this behavior has negative effects on the mental health of spouses, including issues with compromise, avoidance, and separation.
It can help to make a practice of putting down your phone, clearing out distractions, and actually taking time to listen to what they’re saying.
Call, text, or share GIFs or memes during a break
If the time you get to spend with your partner is limited, try squeezing in additional bonding moments whenever you can. There may be more opportunities than you realize.
Break times during your shift can feel very short, but rather than doomscrolling and ramping up your anxiety, you could call your partner for a few minutes of connection.
You might also try making a plan for a fun activity for when you get home and let them know you’re thinking about them — even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
Taking a break from your day to talk with your partner can activate all the right love hormones in your brain, which can strengthen your bond and improve your mood.
Frequent emotional check-ins that emphasize quality versus quantity
The biggest reward of being in a committed relationship is being able to spend time with your special someone. But how can you maximize what little time you have together?
Talk with your partner about when the two of you can really connect and spend time together.
After a stressful day apart, it’s easy to spend “together time” checking your personal email, texting your family back, or reading the news. But these individual tasks all take time away that could be spent with your partner.
Try to find activities you can do together.
It doesn’t have to be sunset beach strolls or kissing over a plate of spaghetti. You two know exactly what your perfect moments together look like, so make those quality encounters happen — even if the quantity of hours is limited.
And if you don’t know, ask your partner for a wish list!
Plant “easter eggs” of love
Our daily routines can be pretty predictable. Try to take advantage of this predictability by inserting signs of your affection into their routine.
For example, if they always leave their keys in a bowl by the door, you could leave notes on a candy bar in the bowl.
You might sneak a love letter into their lunch, or set a calendar reminder with an encouraging message to go off on their phone at the start of each shift.
By leaving them little reminders of you (and your love) throughout the day, it will feel like you’re with them, even when you’re not.
Schedule and start a timer for “business talk”
Finances can be a real source of stress and anxiety in a relationship. In fact, a 2019 survey from Capital One CreditWise found that 73% of those surveyed ranked their finances as a significant source of stress in their lives.
A healthy discussion about your finances is really important, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be the only thing you talk about.
You can set aside a designated time to talk about “the hard stuff” and try to stick with a specific time to end the conversation.
Being able to discuss harder topics will alleviate some pressure, but dwelling on the negative for too long can diminish your limited time together.
Neither you or your partner wants to associate time together with nonstop stressful topics. So when the time goes off, put the budget away and do something you both enjoy more.
Remember, distance makes the heart grow fonder
You can make the most of your time apart by discussing your plans for being together again.
You can opt to send your partner a little message about how much you miss them and what you plan to have for dinner when they get home. If you both can work to playfully miss each other when you’re apart, it will likely make every reunion more satisfying.
Being in a committed relationship means that you’re choosing to be with that person long term, and being apart can feel like the opposite of your goals as a couple.
It’s important to pause and let your partner know that they’re still a priority in your life.
Even if you can’t always be with them because of work, they’ll hopefully find comfort in knowing that you’re thinking about them and want to be with them — even from far away and at all hours of the night.