Pulling all-nighters, at work anyway, isn’t really the key to a solid relationship with your spouse. As night shifters know, constantly resetting your body’s clock is more likely to leave you exhausted and grumpy than in the mood for a quality conversation. Not to mention, working odd hours can really jam up your schedule having you and your spouse coming and going at totally different hours.
Intentionality is key for the success of every couple. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to break down the barriers of working the night shift when it comes to your relationship if you’re willing to put in a little effort.
1. Sync up your calendar
Unlike many of my friends who are couples both working 9 to 5 schedules, it’s not assumed my husband and I will be spending our evenings together. So, we intentionally plan time together. Whether we meet for lunch on my day off near his office (he works regular hours), or enjoy a glass of wine on our very own porch, we schedule time together on the calendar.
Communication in regards to your schedules doesn’t just go for date night. My husband has access to my work schedule posted online so that he can best plan personal events when I will be at work. This helps us maximize the evenings we do have at home together.
2. Get household chores out of the way of your together time
Working odd hours makes running errands a cinch-you can avoid crowds and traffic taking full advantage of your unconventional schedule. I try to complete errands and household chores on weekdays while my husband is working so that when our schedules do match up we can spend time together rather than at the local Kroger. I prep meals ahead of time so when I arrive home from work in the late evening we can still enjoy dinner in our own kitchen. My husband ascribes to a similar philosophy getting tasks like oil changes and responding to emails out of the way when I’m at work. This way we make the most of our together time.
3. Keep your moods in check
Working one too many night shifts can really put me in a funk. My fuse gets shorter, my tendency to snap becomes greater. Fortunately, I’ve developed the habit of thinking twice before I open my mouth when I’m my most tired self. Take stock of your moods and level of fatigue frequently. If you’re over-tired, prioritize sleep. Time together won’t be worth it if you can’t focus. If getting some zzz’s isn’t an option, avoid making major decisions or having serious discussions post night shift. Save things like working through marital issues or making large purchases for when you’re well rested.
4. Find alternative ways to communicate
When I’m pulling a string of night shifts in the ER, there can be periods where my husband and I see each other only in passing. However, we don’t like to go days without communicating. For us, email works best. Other couples I know prefer text. Whatever your method, make an effort to communicate with your spouse during times you can’t see each other, even if it’s just to say “hey”.
On another note, don’t forget to check in with your spouse every once in a while as to his/her feelings about your job. If working the night shift puts a wedge in your marriage, you may need to make a career change for the health of your relationship.
5. Look for the positives
Working odd hours certainly has it’s perks. For example, most night shifters work fewer shifts each week which may lend itself to spending more time with your spouse, even if at unconventional times. Shift workers may have more flexible schedules allowing for time off to take a vacation or for a family emergency. Not to mention, the shift differential for working evening and overnight hours can be substantial. Focus on the positives of your unconventional schedule when it comes to your relationship.
6. Relish your independence
Feelings of isolation can quickly creep in for those of us who keep unusual hours. You are available for social outings when your spouse and friends are working and treating patients when your spouse and friends are out to dinner. Get a few hobbies you enjoy to occupy some of your alone time. Often these provide a social outlet as well. Sign up for a workout class, plan a walk with a stay-at-home friend or read a book at a coffee shop. Encourage your spouse to spend your time apart on activities he/she enjoys as well. Making sure each of you have a healthy personal life will only serve to better your marriage.
7. Take vacations
In my mind, by far the best habit my husband and I have implemented in our marriage is an annual vacation. Friends, family, and generally pets are not allowed on these trips. This is time for us to spend uninterrupted alone together. Our best conversations and some of our fondest memories have occurred during these trips whether they have been while sitting at an outdoor cafe in Argentina, getting motion sickness off the side of a boat on a deep sea fishing trip in Aruba, or making s’mores over a campfire in central Tennessee. Your vacations don’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but simply provide a forum for an uninterrupted extended period of time together (if finances are tight, a staycation will do!).
Night shift NPs, do you have any advice to add?
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