For the first few years of our marriage, I worked the night shift as a registered nurse on several different floors of our local hospital. It was a stressful time in our marriage, as I also stayed home with our daughter during the day, then was pregnant with our second child, and my husband was finishing up school and trying hard to find his first job as a teacher.
There were some days I wouldn’t see my husband except for a quick hand-off of our daughter or a hastily gobbled-down dinner as I walked out of the door. I remember a lot of exhaustion, take-out pizza, and tears (mine, mostly, not our daughter’s) from that time.
And although it was necessary, it was part of learning the ropes as a nurse. I am glad that I had more energy at the ripe age of 22 than I would now with soon-to-be four kids to make the night shift work, it’s definitely not something I would ever willingly go back to.
And yet, for many couples, the reality of living on opposite shifts is simply a way of life, and many don’t have a choice in the matter.
According to the CDC, a whopping 15 million Americans work some kind full-time or rotating night shift. And while taking the night shift might not sound so bad at first, the reality of what it means to actually stay up all night, especially in typical 12- or 13-hour shifts like those that are in common in healthcare or state work, is very rough emotionally and physically. For me, one 13-hour night shift really felt like working three days, as it meant preparing the day of my night shift, hopefully with a nap of some kind, then sleeping the next day, and “recovering” the third day. My body did not do well on the night shift, needless to say.
So what effect do opposite shifts have on a relationship? Not only is there a literal stress on time together, but the stress and exhaustion can cause bickering, miscommunication, and resentment. One coworker I knew even confessed how she initially counted the hours her husband was sleeping, resenting that he seemed to appear to sleep the day away; in reality, however, she soon realized that he was sleeping very normal amounts.
Although love on opposite shifts can be challenging, it certainly doesn’t mean that a relationship on the night shift is doomed. In my case, it helped to focus on the long-term, knowing that the night shift wouldn’t last forever.
One woman whose husband works the night shift as a state trooper recommends, “Have sex when you can! Even if it’s a quickie!” (And seeing as she is currently pregnant with their second child, we know this is advice she takes to heart!) Eat together, make sure you just have a day as a family. We also try and do one day a week where we do nothing.”
The experts at YourTango also offer very helpful tips for managing relationships on different shifts, including scheduling time to be together and re-managing expectations about your home life, including childcare and cooking.
It’s a challenge, definitely, to manage love, work, and parenthood on the night shift, but if there’s one thing I can say about it, it’s this: there is nothing more romantic that sharing a pizza at 8 o’clock in the morning together.
Image via j&j brusie photography