Managing 24/7

Shiftwork and Marriage:

10 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Marriage on a Shiftwork Schedule

Here are some ideas to help you and your spouse successfully juggle the often competing demands of shift work and marriage:

1. Take advantage of the good aspects to your schedule.   There likely will be times - such as when you’re working on a Friday or a Saturday night – when it feels like you married your work schedule instead of your spouse. In those moments, it’s important to recognize that every work schedule (day, evening, night, rotating, etc.) has its pros and cons for relationships.

Make an effort to take advantage of the good aspects of your schedule to help your relationship. For example, some work schedules, such as many that use 10- or 12-hour shifts, include regular breaks of three or more days. With advance planning, you can use these breaks to plan special events and trips with your spouse. This can be a great way to recharge the marriage battery.

2. Share schedule information.  The key for all relationships is to maintain the lines of communication with your spouse. For starters, make sure your spouse knows your work schedule and is kept well-informed of changes and overtime.  For example, many shiftworkers keep a calendar in the kitchen and record their work schedule on it (the Working Nights Calendar even includes scheduling stickers for this purpose).  And if you’re facing a major schedule change — going from 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts, for example — be sure to have a serious discussion about the effect this will have on your relationship.

3. Address problems head on.  When you work at night, there’s a tendency to ignore minor annoyances at home.  But trivial matters — getting your car’s oil changed or fixing a broken window — can quickly grow into major irritants if you incorrectly assume your partner will take care of them.  Keeping the lines of communication open, and even meeting at a designated time each week, can help you address issues before they become problems.  

4. Phone home.  Like in the movie E.T., it is a good idea to get in the habit of calling home. Many spouses find this reassuring, especially if you get into the habit of calling at the same time every night that you work.

5. Allow time for a recovery day.  A spouse’s expectations that you will do things together on off days can be a major source of stress. If you work between four and seven straight night shifts, plan for at least one full day of recovery during which your body can readjust to a daytime schedule. Plan major events or family outings for days when you’re likely to be rested and in a good mood.

6. Take advantage of free daytime hours.  If distance permits, even something as small as meeting for lunch during your spouse’s lunch hour can give you a little time together. If you spouse’s schedule allows him or her some free time during the day, even better.

7. Get to know other night workers.  Making an effort to develop friendships with other people who work nights can pay big dividends. Your spouse will have someone to talk with who shares the same challenges, and you may be able to work out child care arrangements together.

8. Share experiences.  Even when your free time and your spouse’s occur on the opposite ends of the day, the sense that you are sharing the same experiences can be gratifying. Try reading a book or seeing a movie that your partner enjoyed recently. Or collaborate on a home improvement project that you can take turns working on.

9. Try to Schedule a Regular Date Night.  Having a date night every month or so with your spouse gives you both something to look forward to. Plus, it provides time to focus on just the two of you without the competing demands of children and work.

10. Communication is the key.  All of these tips are made better by good communication between partners. Keeping your spouse and family in the loop will make it easier for all of them to appreciate and accept the unusual demands of your job. And if your family supports you, it makes everything in life easier.

Note: This article was adapted from the Working Nights Newsletter – CIRCADIAN’s monthly wellness promotion and lifestyle training newsletter written specifically for shiftworkers and their families. Download a free sample of the newsletter by clicking here.

CIRCADIAN also encourages companies to allow spouses and partners to attend shiftwork training classes. Offering families such opportunities can be a great way to help a spouse better understand the demands of the job and be more supportive at home.

Next Steps: We encourage you to check-out the various training and educational materials CIRCADIAN® offers:

•    Live training on Managing a Shiftwork Lifestyle – This on-site training program provides critical information in the form of practical, ready-to-use advice and examples.

•    Working Nights™ Newsletter – Monthly newsletter filled with tips and ideas to maximize the benefits of Working Nights (view free sample).

•    Working Nights™ Health & Safety Guide – This easy-to-read guide helps workers better adapt to the demands of shiftwork.

•    Fatigue Training Online – The premier online fatigue management training program for the 24/7 workforce.

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