Shift work: Learning to love our offbeat schedules

Guest post by Jess

OMG! How cute are these guys!?
OMG! How cute are Jess and her fiance!?
My fiancé is a police officer. The biggest hurdle this job presents to us as a couple is the schedule. He works afternoon shift and his “weekend” is Wednesday and Thursday. I work a regular daytime Monday through Friday job.

These opposite schedules are hard and were a huge factor in a lot of our spats early on. The internet is surprisingly unhelpful on the topic. The advice given was vague (make your partner a priority) or impractical (switch to a different shift).

After a few years of living together we’ve worked out a happy situation and even found positives in the shift work shuffle. But first…

Why it sucks

Offbeat schedules can suck because of the reduced amount of time together. This one problem is obvious and so far I haven’t found a solution to it. Then there are the not-so-obvious cons. These are the sneaky ones that can wiggle into your relationship and cause unneeded friction.

Loneliness: This guy is a beast. It’s hard not to feel lonely when you are constantly by yourself in the evenings. Go out with friends? Be prepared to be the only one without a significant other there! There would be days-long periods where I was in bed when he came home, he was asleep when I left, and we never actually saw each other awake!

Chores: Keep the house clean — easy right? When you are not at home together often it’s easy to feel like the other person is slacking. You ALWAYS are unloading the dishwasher, but you forget they loaded it.

Pets: Assuming the other person fed the dogs when you were at work or asleep is a deadly trap. There would be days I got home late and the dogs would be whiny because they had yet to be fed that day! Nothing like feeling like a crap dog-mom on top of loneliness and frustration to start a fight.

Meals: All those experts who tout the family dinner are right. Humans bond over food. On top of that with no one to share a meal with its super easy to just eat an entire thing of Oreos for dinner.

Some solutions

Over time we realized that a few small lifestyle changes would make HUGE differences in our lives.

Hobbies: Too much time alone? Both of us filled up our time away from work and each other with fun things. Have something you’ve always wanted to try? You have tons of time to do it now!


White Boards: Lack of communication can cause issues with chores and other responsibilities. I made a white board with our chores that we try to accomplish on a regular basis. If I checked off that I cleaned the toilets, he doesn’t feel bad when he is stuck with a sink full of dishes. Additionally, my fiancé made a doggy dinner plaque. It hangs above the dog bowls and communicates which meal the dogs had last.


Tweak your routines: This is looking at little changes you can make to accommodate your partner better. Can you go in a little later so you are awake when they come home? Can both of you wake up early on your day off to spend more time together before they leave? Can you wait and watch Walking Dead when it re-airs at midnight together instead of at 9? Little adjustments can make a big difference.

Invest in good Tupperware: This helped our meal situation a lot. I can cook dinner and bring it to him, he can cook lunch and bring it to me. Cook a nice dinner and both can eat it for lunch the next day. Additionally, you can modify your meal times. I eat a snack when I get home from work and then eat dinner with him later.

Respect sleep: It’s super tempting to wake your partner up when you get up on your day off. Or to want them to stay up super late with you. Resist! Being tired and grumpy leads to friction. Alternatively, don’t expect your partner to come to bed as soon as they get home. Wind down time is vital.

Even the animals respect sleep.
Even the animals respect sleep.

Surprising positives

Once we got through the rough patches of shift work we found some surprising positives with these work schedules.

Overtime: Both of us pick up a good amount of overtime at work. He jumps on any opportunity that comes up while I’m at work. I can stay late whenever I want or need. It’s good for your pocket book!

Independence: This was more of a pro for me as I was a little bit codependent. I wouldn’t go to a house party without a friend with me. I rarely went to the grocery store alone. This new schedule has forced me out of my comfort zone and I have learned to enjoy some of those solitary moments.

Solid friendships: I’ve noticed that when people get into a serious relationship a lot of their friends start to view them as a unit. Because we go to social functions solo often this hasn’t happened. We haven’t fallen into the couple trap of only hanging out with coupled up friends or mutual friends. We both have large and pretty separate circles of friends. I feel they are stronger friendships because of our work situations.

Home maintenance: We never have to worry about when the cable guy is going to get there because someone is home! Calling a plumber? My fiancé is home during work hours! Admittedly a lot of this falls onto him while I reap the benefits, but it has been much easier taking care of the house.

So yes at first it sucked, and it sucked hard. After a few adjustments though we really love our wonky work schedules. Is it ideal? No, but is any work schedule? Ideally none of us would have to work ever!

Comments on Shift work: Learning to love our offbeat schedules

  1. I love your point about how misaligned schedules between partners can actually be a boon for each partner’s friendships. I realize there are some people who like having their partner as their one and only BFF, but I know it’s really important for me to have strong relationships outside of my primary partnership… and I hadn’t thought of how a misaligned schedule could actually contribute to that!

    • I’ve always been kind of an outsider on groups of friends. His weird schedule has forced me into being a better friend and the one to start up social outings. Now I find myself with a large strong group of friends for the first time in my life (and I’m almost 30!!)

  2. thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii (deep breath) iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssssssssssssssssssss,
    This. this this this this.

  3. I particularly like “tweak your routine”. My schedule and my partner’s schedule are only off by a few hours, but tweaking our routines a bit*, combined with being respectful of the other person’s schedule, has made a huge difference.

    *For us, some of this may also have been adjusting to living with another person.

    • It’s amazing what little things can do! I started showering at night so I could sleep in later in the mornings, that one change alone increased our time together a lot!

  4. My dude and I were living this with his old job and are still living it with his school schedule. I am still working on explaining the “let me sleep when you get home late” part but we’re slowly figuring it out. I love the doggy food plaque! Our deal is usually that I feed my cat and he feeds his cats. That way we have minimal cross over. If he has to run early one day, I’ll take on his cats, and he’ll take on my kitty when I’m exhausted and went to bed early.

    The meals thing can be huge if only one person is around for regular times. I’m home for supper most nights so my dude started expecting that I would make supper for both of us. I think we’ve found a better balance now as a) he’s the one who likes to cook, I just do it because it needs to be done and b) I like spicy food that he cannot eat so when he’s not there, I tend to crave something with heat. So enjoying things like eating spicy chicken or macaroni and cheese when he’s not there for supper and leaving him to his own devices has been nice sometimes.

    Watching shows together, though has been important to us. We save our fave shows and watch them together so we have no spoiler issues and nobody feels left out.

  5. I used to hate how my schedule was very different from my husband’s, but then I remembered that I’m a loner really. I really love having alone time now. I can play Skyrim for hours without that pesky guilt! I also remember that when we’re stuck with each other in a storm or one of us is injured, we’re bound to get irritated at each other, so separate schedules are definitely toting some benefits!

  6. Very good tips! For the first phase of our relationship we actually worked together, but usually had different days off-that actually was pretty friction free. Then I went to a 8-5 job, while he stayed and worked 10-10 during the week, and 9-6 on Saturdays. Those two years sucked for all the reasons you mentioned, sleep, animal duty, mealtimes…we muddled along but it was stressful for both of us. Wish I’d read this article back then!

    Now we’re both self employed and working from home (he works in a shop in an outbuilding), and the pendulum has swung to a little too much togetherness. We’re working on getting alone time at home for each of us and rebalancing household duties.

  7. I live this as well. I work 12 hr overnights at a hospital and my hubby works part time days while going to get his grad degree an hour away on evenings. I come home, and he’s either getting ready or sleeping, and when he’s awake he’s always studying. In 20 mins from now he will rush into the house, make a sandwich, grab his book bag, and leave while I’m getting ready for work and trying to make sure I get a quick kiss and shout “drive safe!” as the door closes. I have to look at it like this: Yes, it sucks now but we’re doing it for our future selves. The money is just too good on overnights, and absolutely vital now that he’s part time. So we’re stuck. For now.
    I just wish we had more time to watch Doctor Who together.

  8. I married law enforcement as well and the schedule is super fun (I might have gotten drunk on Christmas once and made him swear to impregnate me so I would never be alone on Christmas again. It wasn’t pretty). We’ve been dealing with the rotating night schedule for about 5 years now and I’ve gotten used to it for the most part, though. One con not listed was definitely other people’s reactions. Sometimes this doesn’t bug me at all, but especially when I just REALLY need my man the last thing I want are your sympathies and disbelief that he really is working once again (which is so silly because, you know, I go to work 5 days a week and no one ever comments about how much I work). One major pro is ALL OF THE BED SPACE!!! Except for where the dogs are. And not having to share your food/remote/attention. The only child in me loves that.

    • Oh yah holidays totally suck…they are the one time of year all my little tips do NOTHING to help.

      Peoples reactions do suck. I get teased for having an invisible fiancé because he is never around…..I don’t get much sympathy from my friends tho…maybe my friends are jerks? Haha

    • I also married law enforcement (game warden) and while he gets to generally choose which hours in a 12 hour block he’s going to work, sometimes he needs to work funny hours (like to do night poaching details or searching for lost people).

  9. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your point about tupperware!! I just bought these from Amazon and I LOVE LOVE LOVE them. The reviews aren’t great, but I took a risk, got 6 bowls and 6 lids, and they are fantastic!! A Good size for me for lunch (because lunch is my biggest meal) and a good size for him for dinner because that’s his biggest meal. Plus, they travel to and from work in my purse with me, and I’ve yet to had a spill….So, a good product if you’re looking for glass food storage.

  10. I have a rotational schedule, six days on and two days off. So my “weekend” is different every week, while my husband works your standard Mon-Fri schedule. At first it bummed me out to only have a day off together every six/seven weeks, but now I TREASURE my days off by myself. I get to sleep in, watch Food Network all day, and vacuum without telling him to get out of my way! He gets to play video games and load the dishwasher without me hoovering over him.
    Another tip I have is to spend quality time together when you do have off at the same time. It’s tempting to put off the housework so you can “do it together” but it just cuts into the time you could be clubbing/hiking/watching re-runs of Walking Dead together. We make sure to get all our chores done so we have no guilt spending mutual weekends really hanging out. It helps us get through the weeks when we don’t have that time.

  11. I have a 60-80hr week on a rotating roster between work and training requirements (medicine). My husband leaves for work at 5AM and sleeps on the evenings he is home.

    We have found that open diarising (using iCloud more recently) is essential. Shared mornings off are identified and labelled some weeks in advance, and around 50% of these are kept as private time together.

    We have a a single bed in a room that can be made dark and quiet. The whiteboard indicates suitable time for waking (and a few affectionate haiku, typically).

    Kitchenwise, a dishwasher and a menagerie of “heat and eat” tupperware kept nutrition fair and mess contained.

    I suppose an important factor is that as shift-workers, we have extra paid leave over the year (8 weeks in total for me, 5 for him), and that both of our bosses are very flexible about.

    We are planning to add fly-in-fly-out mining work to this in the near future. At this time, the plan is to get a cleaner in a few hours a fortnight to maximise the chance of shared pleasant activity.

    All said, however, it’s fair to say that this is not a long-term option!

  12. My husband and I both work “quirky” schedules — I’m second shift, and he’s third. In the 4 years or so that we’ve been together, this has worked extremely well for us, probably because we are both introverts who were used to living alone for many years. In our case, it has been helpful that the time that we are each not asleep or at work happens to coincide, so instead of having evenings together, we have mornings. It also helps a LITTLE bit that we work in the same office with desks in close proximity, and our schedules actually overlap by a couple of hours. We’re having a baby this summer though, and our schedules are going to take a bit more work after that. We’re planning on trying to avoid any kind of outside childcare, so obviously we won’t be able to overlap at work anymore, and need to have enough of a cushion to allow for travel time for each of us. No more overtime, either — at least, not for me. We’ve realized I am going to have to reduce my hours a bit for him to have time to get any decent amount of sleep without having to be on solo-parent duty, not to mention the biggest change, which is that he is going to have to totally alter his sleep schedule, and call it a “night” as soon as he gets home in the morning, and hope that he has no problems falling asleep. Which is going to take a huge bite out of the time that we have available to spend together. We’re going to be one of those families that only really has time for everyone together on the weekends. Obviously that’s not ideal, but so far that’s the plan! Once the kid is in school, we’ll have to take a whole new look at all of it, of course.

  13. My husband and I are the same. I am Monday through Friday, he is second, and even third shift retail management. I am trying to convince him he does NOT need to get up with me in the morning to have coffee…But its his thing…He also works a second job but THANKFULLY we do have weekends together and to be honest, we hoard our time. Friends and family dont understand. But thats okay. We do meet for lunch once a week and I will bring him dinner once a week. We do what we can. I miss eating meals with him though…But I also have loved the NO GUILT time I have at night by myself. We have adapted pretty well…

  14. I needed this. My husband works second shift and I work a terrible combination of first and second shift. Add two kids to the mix and it gets nuts. We were just getting into a flow when his hours changed. Then we figured it out and suddenly I had our second baby. Now we are working on it again and getting in a groove, but it will change it again when I go back to work.
    One day at a time.

  15. I needed this a lot. After leaving his office job recently my fella has gone back to bartending while I work the 7-4 grind. It definitely gets lonely and we’re still trying to figure out how to make the most of our time together but hopefully we’ll get on track with the help of some of these tips.

  16. This, a thousand times this!
    In the four years we have lived together we have never been on the same schedule. As the current schedule stands I work 7-3 every day and he works 3-11:30. Needless to say we never see each other.
    The point made by this article that I agree with so much is respecting sleep! Oh my goodness this is so important! There have been so many nights where he has come home and there has been something that he wants to share with me that happened at work, which leads to him waking me up and talking for an hour or two which then means I only get five hours of sleep before work. Needless to say this is one of our main argument points.
    The best thing is that he insists on getting up every morning to make me my tea and breakfast and pack my lunch while I get ready for work…little things like this are how we make it through every day.

  17. This is something I’ve just started with my boyfriend, since I’m a bread baker which means my hours are anywhere between 3am to 10am and something even earlier while he works at a traditional office 8pm to 5pm.

    This schedule really works for us because I come home from work, take a hot bath and sleep until 5:30, usually right before he gets home and then we have the whole evening together, have a meal and run errands and even cuddle a bit when he goes to bed, then I have a few hours of guilt free computer time before work (which is wonderful when you’re an active gamer and online role-player!)

    I’m also pleased because I can be mostly nocturnal and still be a normal, functioning member of society without upsetting my loved one XD.

  18. The Internet is very unhelpful in general when you’re a person or couple with an offbeat schedule. They’re always giving you advise about eating right and exercising by creating a routine, but what if you work 9-5 one day, 2:30-10 the next day and 11-8 the day after that? My boyfriend and I both work in retail and our schedules are never the same from week to week. We usually never have two days off in a row or days off together, and we only get Saturdays and Sundays off by chance. It’s a lot harder than people realize!

    • This is my life right now too — the boyfriend works 2 retail jobs and I have a regular 8:30-5 M-F job plus work a retail job. Its lucky when we get a day off together!! But we make the most of the time that we HAVE together and sometimes not seeing each other gets lonely, but spending time together is NOT something we take for granted. It sucked hardcore at Christmas, let me tell you. I don’t think we went to the grocery store once beyond bare-bones basics and we ate mall food or takeout every day.

  19. YES!!!

    The meal thing is our hardest challenge. I dislike cooking for one.

    My hubby works second shift and I only work one day a week. He has had this schedule most of our dating time and all of our married time. We have a toddler and it’s hard not to feel like I get the brunt of the gross parts of kid raising.

    I do however love love love the independence of having solo time. If I want to grab a mid-week drink or catch up with friends it’s easy. And when our son was small it was great, I slept from when hubby got home to 7-8am.

    • Definitely agree. It’s so hard to get motivated to cook dinner for one and a half! My husband works four 10 hour shifts and doesn’t get home until around 4am just in time to see me off to work. If we didn’t have our daughter I would also find myself eating oreos for dinner every night! I think the hardest part are those really long days when you get off work and have to rush to pick up the little one, get home make dinner, feed the dogs, feed the cat, clean up, let the dogs out, bath time, story time, and then putting the baby down. It’s hard not to feel like a single parent four nights a week.

  20. We’ve had to deal with this as well, but thankfully we have a little more flexibility.
    My partner works from home (his own business) and has always worked odd hours. He tends to work best at night, and so used to go to bed in the morning and get up in the afternoons. I was a high school teacher, so was up either soon after he went to bed, or occasionally when he was still up. It used to drive me nuts on weekends when I’d get up, be waiting all day until he was up, and then not be able to do the things I wanted to with him because it was almost dark/shops were closed etc.

    I definitely think expectations/respecting the other’s schedule is important. I would sometimes get resentful because I didn’t have any choice about my schedule, whereas he could easily have chosen hours which suited me better. In the end it was what worked best, so I really needed to stop blaming him.

    Now that we have a baby, it works out really well. There are still times when I wish he was awake/would come to bed etc. but our days generally go like this 6 days a week (rough timing):

    7am – he brings our daughter in for a feed… he goes to bed and lets me know when he plans to get up, bub & I get up for the day

    11:30 am – he gets up, maybe eats/showers/talks to us, starts work

    5:30 pm – he gets bub to bed after she’s been fed, I go do something useful (housework, have a shower, prepare dinner… etc.)

    6:30 pm – we have a chat, make dinner, eat… generally spend time together

    9:30pm – I feed the baby and he starts work again

    10:00 pm – I go to bed, he works

    2:30 am – he brings me bub for a feed, then sleeps (or tries to… since he takes care of night wakings if she doesn’t need feeding)

    All in all, it works well for us

  21. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for posting!

    My fiance and I are about to move into our first place together April 1. I work… well I work 60-80 hours a week, Monday – Friday days with also 3 nightly meetings, and occasionally around the clock (major events).

    He works retail, so if he’s lucky he gets the random Sunday off and otherwise some random week day. We have very little overlap.

    I’ll have to keep your whiteboard solution in mind for chores and Tupperware.

  22. I will join the hordes saying how great it is that this topic was brought up!

    I always thought of myself as a homebody and as very independent and able to fly solo with ease – until I moved in with my now-husband. His solitary nature and love of being ensconsed in his office at home put my own similar leanings to shame, and in comparison I am quite the socialite and busy-bee. It was very hard for me at first, and still sometimes hard for me now, to not take his loner tendencies personally, and/or resent him for them.

    But for the last 3 years we have been on pretty opposite schedules, which has kind of made the whole “we’re not spending enough time together” issue a non-issue (or, let’s be honest, less of an issue). We have made some adjustments, too. We usually reserve Tuesday evenings for a meal at home together – it’s one of his most stressful days at work and it’s my last day off before returning to work for the start of my week: it’s the perfect day for me to spend time cooking (which I love) and wind down by staying home, and it’s built in together-time. Because I like to go out, my next step is to try to get us to pin down a bi-weekly “going-out” night to satisfy my own needs there more (without asking it of him weekly! haha). And, on my end, I’m trying to go to bed with him more often – I know he likes it when I am there for him to fall asleep next to and, although it’s hard for me to go to bed early, I think it could be worth it just to have that bonding/sleepy time together more often.

    But as I write this, it is 2:10 am and I am here at the computer while he has been asleep for a few hours now….it’s a work in progress. haha.

  23. I’m struggling with this at the moment, as my boyfriend works shifts and I’m out of the house weekdays 8-6. Thankfully, his shifts change weekly so it’s never long before we get a weekend together. Unfortunately though as yet we don’t live together, so when his shifts are in a bad pattern, I see him maybe for an hour every 4 days. I am actually desperate for him to move in so I can see him more!

  24. This is great! I work nights and my husband works evenings. We each have Tuesday off and set aside as our day together, and we usually get the mornings together. Unfortunately, neither of us have the time for outside friendships or hobbies because of the way our schedules work out.
    I hate hate hate working nights, but I found as long as I don’t think too much about it or fantasize about working days again, I handle it much better.
    I also love the fact I can have the mornings to do whatever and I never need to take time off of work for appointments. I’m also looking forward to being able to use my mornings to spend time with our little bundle of joy that will be arriving in may 🙂

  25. My husband and I currently have very different schedules as well – I work evening shifts (like 4-10 pm) and he works overnights (like 11-7). It SUCKSSSSS. Not to mention this is also our first year of marriage, so we’re trying to get used to living together as a real live adult couple in the first place on top of managing the weird schedules thing. combined with the fact that I often go away for one or two nights on the weekends to see friends/boyfriend, we don’t get a whole lot of time together. We try very hard to make our days off together count, but even when we have a day off, he often sleeps through most of the time I am awake because that’s the schedule he is used to. We have used some of these tips to manage household things – like a white board for chores, tupperware for meals, etc. – but we still haven’t really gotten the hang of spending time together when we have time, because it seems like there never really is a significant amount of time when both of us are not working AND awake. And, it doesn’t help that we live in a studio apartment – so we end up spending a lot of time tiptoeing around the house trying not to wake each other up! It’s pretty frustrating. but i’m going to try to use some of the advice I’ve seen here, thanks for posting and thanks everyone for commenting!

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