“I’m not sleeping with you any more...”
Whether you are considering a job that works in shifts, or if you already work shifts and are entering a new relationship, you should know that shift work changes relationships. If you don’t talk about shift work with your family early, you’ll end up talking about it later… and it will not be a pleasant conversation if you wait.
Follow these pointers so your discussion can be the ounce of prevention that will prevent a pound of cure when shifts start to stress your relationships:
Start your conversation by asking your partner what is important. What are the most important parts of family time? What are negotiable aspects of life on a “normal” schedule? Once you understand what’s important, you can discuss how shift work will affect it.
For someone who has never worked or lived with shifts, there are hundreds of new experiences: Sleeping in an empty bed. Cooking for two, but eating alone. High-fiving as you get home and your spouse goes to work. Tip-toeing around the house while your spouse sleeps.
Don’t try to scare anyone off, but think about specific ways shift work affects your partner’s life. Connect those concrete results to the priorities your partner shared with you.
“I work shifts, you cool with that?”
“On work days, I wake up at 5 p.m and leave by 6 p.m. I work through the night. When I get home at 8 a.m., I go straight to sleep. That means I’ll get home after you and the kids leave for school and you will only see me for about an hour each day on work days.”
Actions speak louder than words
Whether you’re considering a switch to shift work, or taking a relationship to the next step, a dose of reality can take the conversation to the next level.
Discuss the shift work schedule, then live it for a week. You don’t have to have the job to adjust your hours. Your partner doesn’t have to move in for more than that week. At the end of the week, you’ll have a list of concrete tensions and difficulties you encountered. Take care to remember the schedule and its quirks are a permanent feature of the job, not an aberration of that week’s experience.
Don’t tell me problems, tell me solutions
No family talk about shift should focus solely on the challenges. Rather, you should focus on the ways your family can overcome these challenges. If you only discuss the problems, it’s going to be a doom-and-gloom experience. Yet, as you discuss the actions you would need to take to honor the priorities you’ve set, you’ll find many reasonable work-arounds.
Implementing the strategies you identify is a great way to bolster your relationship in the face of stress.
How you spend your time communicates what you believe is important. On your days off, be sure to invest time that tells your family you mean it when you say they are more important than inmates, suspects, or patients.
Have the talk with us
If you could do it again, what would you tell your spouse about shift work? Drop a comment to let us know.