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.
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.
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!