7 Tips for Staying Married When You Work the Night Shift

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. 

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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?


You Might Also Like: 9 Practical Tips for Conquering Night Shift Fatigue


4 thoughts on “7 Tips for Staying Married When You Work the Night Shift”

  1. Any tips for a stay at home mom with a night shift nurse husband? He’s also in NP school so he is crazy busy. I’m looking for ways to help make his life easier and less stressful and also ways to encourage him. We text a lot and I always try to be his biggest cheerleader but it seems like he is having a hard time sticking with nights and he’s just about to start night and day clinicals as well. Can’t wait for him to be done with school!

  2. I don’t have any children but my boyfriend just started a night job. I’m finding it really hard to be away from him and he’s exhausted. We are fighting a lot and can’t see eye to eye. I want to be on his side and help him; he’s making it really difficult because he’s so fatigued. I tried making dinner and packing his lunch. He’s just not responding to it the way I thought he would. Can anyone who had experience help? Thank you!

    1. Hi Andria,

      Maybe I can shed some light from your boyfriends side.

      I am currently 29 year old Male. I have been doing shift work for over a decade now so here are some things you may consider. That perhaps aren’t always said or told to someone in a shift work relationship.

      It takes about 5-6 diligent days of going to sleep and waking up at the same time to switch over sleep cycles.

      Even a day of staying up a certain time will reset that progress. I always had issues with this. I would get off weds morning be in bed by 9pm on Wed, Thursday, Friday. Saturday my gf would have the night off and we would end up drinking or not coming home until the bars closed (3am) and I was back to square one.

      The first 3 days coming off are the worst, and the rest of the week Is not that much better. We are zombies. I bet you have had conversations with your boyfriend and it seems like he’s dazed or just not paying attention? This is normal. His body is telling him that he should be asleep right now and that is so hard to fight.

      Not to take away or belittle what you lady’s go through but the best way I can describe what coming off nights is like is by saying that it’s like “our time of the month”
      We’re agitated, we want to nap, we’re cranky and lose it on our loved ones, our appetites are all over the place.
      We are fragile creatures after nights and we need support. I know it sucks to have your partner sleep so much but its not something we can fight. I mean my relationship got to a point that I had to turn to substance abuse to stay awake to hang out with my girlfriend durning the day so I wouldn’t fall asleep. That was a dark slippery path which a lot of night shift workers turn too. I hope that isn’t the case for you guys.

      Just be patient. I came off nights one time and it was my girlfriends only day off all week. I said we would go golfing that day but I just couldent do it. So we went to the driving range for an hour instead. I had ti go home and sleep.

      I went home to lay down I was woken up to her crying besides my bed and she told me she just couldn’t spend all day inside on her day off but didn’t want to just leave me inside. I was only sleeping for about an hour. I broke down and cried and explained to her how tired I was. She explained how this was her only time to spend with us.

      Two valid arguments so which one is more important? The health of the individual or the health of the relationship?

      You have to sit down and lay out the plan for when he comes off of nights.

      -Never plan something you HAVE to be at. Instead have a list of things you can do at any moment. Go check out a new place to eat. Go for a quick walk. Stuff like that.

      – try and plan and have everything ready to go so all he has to do it get in the car. My current gf packs everything on my week I work so if we wanted to go camping she would just tell me to get in the car and she would just drive us.
      She does this for snowboarding too. This takes out all the “I’m too tired to pack” gives us no time to think about what we have to do. Just get in an go.

      – if an argument arises, keep it In your mind; “Their coming off nights” they don’t mean what they say.

      – Don’t plan anything on the first 3 days. Those are the worst.

      – If you have an event you want to bring them to with your friends don’t tell them that you will both be there. Explain, hey I will be there but “steve” just came off nights so we’ll have to see how he’s feeling.

      Hope some of these tips help.


      1. Thank you for giving a voice to us 3rd shifters! I found your article when trying to find something for my husband to read to understand my 3rd shift life. I love 3rd shift but not easily understood by ANYONE. Your suggestions are spot on, and you eloquently get the message of how tired we are and don’t mean to be unreliable! We do our best, it’s just hard to foresee how much sleep we will get any given day. We especially aren’t appreciated when “even though we “slept all day?!” we still may feel out of it and appear extremely lazy.
        Can you write a book entitled “How to love a nightshifter”
        Thanks so much!

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