How do you keep up communication in a relationship when you hardly see each other?

Guest post by Tina (sk8bettyt)

How do you and your partner stay in touch when have totally different schedules? Here’s how one reader uses technology to keep up their communication when they rarely see each other.

By: sunshinecityCC BY 2.0
Describing my relationship as “night and day” takes on a more literal tone when I am awake during the day and sleep at night while my fiance (let’s call him boyfriend because the F word still sounds funny) works overnight and sleeps during the day.

It could seem that our communication could struggle in a relationship like this, but the truth is we maintain very open communication with each other; we just have to utilize methods available to us. So how do we “make it work” as the fabulous Tim Gunn is known to say? By using three kinds of virtual communications…

Texting is our primary source of communication while we are apart. While he sleeps, I text him things as they happen. Kids got sick? I paid a bill? I made a trip to the store and picked up something for him that I know he needs? I text it. It saves me from bombarding him when he wakes up in the afternoon and he gets to read it at his leisure. He is kept up to date on the daily happenings this way. At night when he leaves for work, this is our time to “conversate.” We chat about things, make each other laugh, and unfortunately sometimes argue through text. It may not be ideal, but the written form works sometimes.

Email is how we got started in our relationship. We started by emailing each other a series of questions ranging from serious to funny to get to know each other. “What three bands could you listen to forever?” “Would you rather have a unicorn horn attached to your shoulder or an alligator tail on the back of your head?” “What life lesson do you hope your children take away from your parenting?” We did this almost daily. It is great to look back over those emails as it reminds us of where we started and where we are now. Email is also great when needing help on class assignments (me) or needing something ordered online during a sale and shopping online at work isn’t allowed (him).

We also use Facebook (and used to use MySpace back in the day) to share hilarious pictures, crack jokes on each other, and keep up with long-distance friends as most people do.

With all this technology, you would think we never talk face-to-face, but honestly we’re just as old school as the rest of them. We still leave Post-Its in surprising places with sweet sentiments or silly words. We spend an hour or so before he leaves for work (and after the kids are in bed) just being together, having a great conversation or sharing a meal together. On his days off (once-twice a week) we scour Netflix trying to one-up each other with the best/worst B-rated movies to watch and enjoy.

This is soon-to-be our second marriage each, and we learned early on how important communication is to keep the relationship going and working. We work hard at maintaining this crazy thing called love, and although it is far from traditional, it suits us just fine.

So what kind of relationship hacks do YOU use to communicate with your partner with a wildly different schedule? Technology? Love notes? Sky writing? Tell us.

Comments on How do you keep up communication in a relationship when you hardly see each other?

  1. My dude and I do this. He’s a student and works shift work or is self-employed, so even if we’re both awake during the day (which isn’t always the case), he may be in class, I may be in meetings, and then in the evening he may be working on homework or going to class. So we try to text one another. We also take advantage of Gmail’s chat function. I email him links or things I think he should look at, but primarily we text and chat. We spent the first 3 months of our relationship across the country from one another so it’s pretty familiar.

    We also try to let one another know if it’s not a good time. Sometimes you just want to unplug or you’re working on something and receiving texts or chatting is not functional.

    Inspired by other posts, we’ve set up a whiteboard for regular tasks and also the “honey-do” list (Honey, can you do…?). That way I can leave him a list if I need him to do something and he can’t misplace it.

    • We also have a calendar (yes, the old school paper kind LOL), a corkboard, and a dry erase board hanging on the blank wall in our kitchen. All household appts go on the calendar. Random mail or important notes get stuck on the corkboard. Love notes, grocery lists, dinner options, etc. get written on the dry erase board. It’s funny but I didn’t think about those things as part of our communication tools but they are essential to the house.

      When we move, it’ll go with us and it might get an upgrade, but I now see how important it is to keep it going.

  2. I work a 8ish-5 job and my husband works a semi-regular job Wed-Sat nights, 9pm-7am and a second job on Sat and Sun from 7:30am-1pm AND goes to school.

    It sucks.

    He is allergic to technology and social media so our communication is scattered and mainly through either cell phone conversations while I’m on the way to work and he’s on his way home. Occasionally, we accidentally meet in our neighborhood, (which we did this morning) pull off and run to each other in the middle of a cul-de-sac where I quickly spout off a bunch things at once like, “please take the trash out it’s stinky – it’s going to rain today so make sure the dogs get plenty of outdoor time beforehand – how was work – I’m sorry your manager sucks ass – I love you” and then I run back to my car and drive off.

    I also have to write things down that I need to talk to him about because otherwise I might forget if I can’t see him for a few days.

    I have to maintain strict realistic expectation of him and the same with him for me. We don’t pick fights over silly things. He is tired a lot and it is really stupid and selfish of me to bring up a bad/hot topic when he has just worked 12 hours on his feet. So timing is everything. When we are together, our relationship is top priority and he is my number 1 focus. If he wants me to lay down with him when I get off work, even though I’d rather watch tv and drink a beer, I lay down with him. Fortunately, I’m really good at being alone and actually enjoy my evenings by myself sometimes. We also keep in mind that this isn’t forever and we will eventually have the same schedule.

    My main advice is figure out what style of communication works best (cell phone, email, sticky notes, carrier pigeon) and to unplug from everything when you do have time with each other. I also suggest keeping a detailed combined schedule so you can see ahead where the two of you will have time with each so you can plan accordingly. This weekend, he has off from both jobs so we are planning to go on a long hike…awesome time to communicate! Can’t wait!

  3. We are a big fan of our online calendars. The only way I can organise me, him, two stepkids and the ex-wife is by sending the relevant people meeting invites. We all use the same email provider and I swear I cannot live without this now. Each “meeting” (Which can be an appointment, a club, school letter needing to be returned etc) is categorised by person it refers to, and then a short description of the thing. My other half gets copied into all my things and vice versa as we like to know where each other is (It is not always the same country, let alone place!), and the kids get copied into things requiring their presence. So for example – “HELEN: Dentists” will go to my other half and me only but “JOINT + KIDS: Cinema!” will go to all four of us, and “KID1: Orthodontists” could potentially go to me, him, ex-wife and kid1. Phew.

    We also chat a lot via messenger – or Skype IM now *insert weepy face at the death of MSN* – otherwise we’d never get a proper exchange of information in – especially as we’re both IT based for work and play so always have a laptop on. It’s also ok as Little Red Lupine says above to say “now’s not good – be with you in x” or just not respond – we both know we’re busy. It’s like leaving notes as much as anything else!

    We tend to be in bed together most nights, so we try and always have a snuggle and a chat over things even if only 5 mins before sleep – if he’s not here though we call and do it instead. For us we’ve found it’s really important that we sort out any niggly worries really early on, particularly if they impact each other, or it just snowballs massively out of control really quickly, so that 5 minutes is really useful.

  4. My wife-to-be and I use a leather bound journal that we trade back and forth to write entries in (in addition to email, text, etc). It’s easier to tell long stories, etc. than it is to text them.

    • I rly rly like the leathr journal idea. Mypartner and I work opposite shofts and she hates my beloved smartohone..maybe an u pkugged journal would be rly grounding and simple. Can you say more about it? Bc the argument against it would be that it delays communicatons or its nconvient bc you have to have the chance to hand it off. Its interesting tho.

  5. When my husband and I were living 3 hours apart from each other phone calls every night were a must even if it was just for 5 minutes. I texted him tons, but he would read them and never reply. That was super frustrating, but I learned to adapt. We are living together now and work at the same office so we are rarely apart. We do on occasion have to travel separately for work and the nightly phone call works well.

  6. I don’t know if work schedules/flexibility would permit this, but could you drop by his work and bring him a meal or coffee? Sometimes 20 minutes of face time is worth it if you haven’t seen each other in a couple days!

  7. Our schedules suck the big one. Hubs works 3-11pm, Wed through Sun, and I work 9-5 Mon through Fri. We try to maximize our weekend mornings and Mon/Tues nights as much as possible (all our friends and family know to leave us alone during those times), and then use basically all these other tips during the rest of the week. We text a lot, and facebook message, and try to sneak a phone call in on his “lunch break” in the evenings. We sometimes leave dry erase marker messages on the bathroom mirrors. 🙂

  8. Dude: Google Calendar wins the relationship! I send an invite; he “accepts” and then it’s on both our calendars, and we get smartphone reminders/alarms for things we’re doing together, usually on the weekends (“Get dressed for dinner party” and then “leave for dinner party” etc). If he is surprised I’m going somewhere (a poetry reading the other night when he got home late) it’s like, “Well it was on my Google Calendar. I was wondering when you’d notice.” No excuses for not being on the same page about our day-to-day. I can keep track of his irregular hours, and he can even see my many little tasks, so he knows it’s on my list to take care of that thing I promised to do, etc.

    • And to be honest, this started out as passive aggression on my part, because he had a terrible memory for my stuff, and kept his schedule on a Word doc, which drove me crazy as a professional admin/schedule keeper, so I invited him to join/view my calendar. He was pretty receptive, then ran with it once he realized Google Cal is such a genius tool. Truly life changing for both of us.

Join the Conversation