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. This advice is fantastic! My husband works M-F first shift and some Saturdays. I’m in retail management so I can go in at 9 and sometimes don’t get off until 12:30 at night. One tip I would add is to get a plan with unlimited text and mms messages. We text when he takes lunch or when I have a break. It makes us feel more involved with each other throughout the day even if it’s just a pic of one of our dogs being silly or something a bit more naughty.

    • text messages were a lifesaver when my wife worked nights. in most respects it was awful, but more because of the health impacts of lack of sleep on her than the way our schedules meshed (or didn’t).

      now that we have similar schedules, i really, really miss the alone time in the evenings. i discovered after she quit that job that i am almost completely incapable of getting anything done with someone else around – even my wife, even in different rooms; i simply need to be alone to be productive. it’s been three years and i still don’t get as much housework done, i don’t spend as much time on my hobbies, i don’t write as much, i don’t read as much – so i do miss all that.

  2. My husband and I only have from 12:45 to 2:45 together during weekdays. We decided that even though we enjoy cooking, it’s best if we utilize our short time together in other ways. So I often start the crock pot before I head off to work and it’s all ready for us when I get home! Since it’s only the two of us, we often have a ton of food, so we freeze some of the leftovers and eat the rest for our dinners alone. I feel like this also helps to make sure that we’re eating healthy, even when we’re not together.

    Currently we have only one car. Unfortunately the public transit system doesn’t run late enough for my husband to take it both to and from work and my commute would be almost triple what it is now if I took the bus. It takes a bit of planning to ensure that grocery shopping and other errands are getting done, and it was definitely stressful at first, but we’ve finally gotten into the groove of things. Once I finish school and start working full-time we’ll very likely have to get a second car, but for now I’m loving that our schedules have allowed us to be more environmentally friendly!

  3. (Related part) THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING THIS. I tend to see the positive in weird schedules while my fiancee tends to see the negative, this post should totally help me AND her!
    (Not related part) What derby team do you ‘dabble’ on?? I’m in WV too, I will probably meet you this season!

  4. Thank you so much for this! I wish I’d seen the great advice in this post 7 years ago when my (now) husband was working as the technical director for a regional theatre company. I’ve always worked a regular 8-5 ish job, but when he worked in theatre, he worked 9am-midnight or later one week of every six weeks. I got used to spending that time alone, but didn’t really have the tools to handle as well as I could have – for both of us. Thankfully, he switched careers and, ironically, we went from his out of whack work schedule to living, working, and commuting with each other. (That’s another post entirely 🙂

    The one smart thing we got in the habit of doing during the hectic schedule period of our lives was that I would come to the theatre on my way home from work to say hi briefly and pick up our dog (he went to work with my husband every day – so cute!) so the poor pup wouldn’t have to “work” until midnight. It gave us a nice reason to see each other in the daylight once a day.

  5. I live in Western Australia, and my partner and I met while we were both doing a fly in fly out roster. This means we fly to a remote site for a roster and then home for R&R. We’ve done a number of different combinations including:
    Him at one site, me at another – 8 days on, 6 days off
    Him at one site on 8:6 and me on 4:3
    Both on same site, both on 8:6 but my week started Tuesdays and his Fridays
    Now I’ve been made redundant, so not working while I find something else and he is still doing the 8:6.
    You become a master at doing things by yourself! Luckily FIFO is a really common thing in WA (thank you mining industry) and everyone you meet will understand – most of my friends either do FIFO or have FIFO partners.
    A website that caters particularly for FIFO relationships and families is – it has great tips on managing the odd rosters and shift work 🙂

    • This looks like a really interesting resource! I’m going to share it with a friend who’s husband does a similar thing for oil and gas industry!

    • thanks so much for the link, I do 8:6 and my partner does 22:6.
      I have learn’t to appreciate the time we have together. I will never (hopefully) take the awesomeness that is just sleeping next to my partner for granted again. I try to make sure the larger house hold maintenance that he used to do are done before he gets home, so we dont have to waste time on jobs. Also even a short holiday (weekend away) can make everything better again.

  6. Holy smokes guys! I am so glad this article seemed helpful to so many of you! Offbeat home has helped me so many times I’m so glad I could contribute!!!!

    My fiance is a tax accountant, and I’m a student/caretaker for a child with Autism. He wakes up at 5, gets home around 7. I wake up at 8 or 9 and get home at 10 if my charge will go to bed, later if he’s stubborn! He goes to bed at 10, and during tax season works weekends too. We have yet to work it out like you do (I’m currently having issues with the fact that while we’re both home he has a tendency to be on Skype with his friends).

  8. Joining the chorus of thanks for this article. Husband and I don’t currently have this issue (other than the sucky timing from my 170-mile roundtrip commute), but he’s been toying with a maybe-opportunity that would mean working second shift and so we’ve been talking about this. Thanks for pointing out some of the hidden bonuses, as that helps balance out the obvious potential problems

    I have a really hard time getting stuff done when he’s around, and won’t clean or spend time on my hobbies because I feel like I *should* be doing stuff with him. It’s kind of a weird issue, but I actually get a little bit excited at the prospect of having alone-time at the house sometimes. Currently we leave at the same time in the morning and he gets home several hours before I do (see that commute problem), so I never ever have alone-time.

    • My husband and I joke that the housework never gets done when we’re both home. We just want to spend our time goofing off together so we have to really force ourselves to clean up or do dishes.

  9. I don’t think anyone has mentioned it and I need some advice. What do you do about sex???? My fiance doesn’t get home until 10 sometimes and I have to be up at 5:45 (I have a 45 min commute). He always tries to initiate around 11 and I feel like a complete b!tch for turning him down, but I’m exhausted. I try to fool around right when he gets home, but he needs to unwind and take a shower. I understand this, but does anyone have any pointers on how we could make this better????

    And if you have the extra money, a housekeeper saves a lot of arguments. We have one that comes in once a month to do the things that we don’t want to do (windows and baseboards).

    • To be honest, we really don’t have as much intimacy time as we used to….we try for one of the “days off”. For us its the weekends, I’m rested and he’s almost always up for a quickie before work… commenter mentioned text messages above. If i’m feeling especially awake I might send some frisky text messages so he knows he can be excited when he comes home….also helps with the needing to unwind. Plus if he needs a shower, a lot of showers can fit two people 😉

      I wish we could afford a cleaning lady! Baseboards an windows aren’t even on our radar….We’re at the having enough clean pairs of underwear and keeping the house from smelling like catbox level of housework……

  10. My partner has just started working 11pm till 11am. We have a 7 year old and a 12 month old and I am hating it!!! The kids get to see him for a measly hour per day and his 2 days off are Wed/ Thurs so my 7 year old is struggling not having him around for the weekend.

    I try my best to stay up as late as I can to spend time with him but I’m so tired myself. I do things like make his “lunch” to take to work and leave little notes and surprises so he knows i’m thinking of him. But I’m constantly stressed out about keeping everyone quiet so he can sleep. I can’t do housework at the normal times and have to try and squeeze all the noisy chores into the hour he’s awake before the kids go to bed.

    I never resent him because he is providing for his family but I do resent the situation. I guess over time we’ll find our groove and the kids and I will adjust to his new schedule.

    Your info was very helpful! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Months and months after the fact, but I needed this. My fiance works a regular 8-5 job and I just quit my administrative job (which I hated) to go back to working in mental health (which I love) at a transitional living program. The problem now that I work 12 hours on Saturday and all the daylight hours on Sunday. That bomb of a schedule had me crying for seven hours yesterday. It felt like our relationship would fall apart (we’re trying to plan our wedding on top of all of this!), and you’re right – the internet is unhelpful. Every first suggestion I found was “aim for one day off together.” Uh, hi, I’m asking the internet about this because I CAN’T have a day off with him.

    So, yeah, thank you for writing this. I feel a little less miserable now.

  12. My husband and I are on opposite schedules, which is made more difficult by the fact that we have a toddler. We have a pretty decent rhythm, but that doesn’t help me not feel lonely when I’m home alone after I put the kiddo to bed. At the end of the summer, we are moving out of state to both begin graduate programs, so the end of opposite schedules is in sight! (Although I know managing grad school workloads will be a beast of its own)

  13. I so needed this today when it popped up on my facebook feed. I’m about to start a job that will be from 2pm-10:30pm T-S and a 1 hour commute each way once we move in 2 weeks, and once we’re settled in the new place he’s going to be trying to get back into car shops, which have a typical schedule of 7am-5pm M-F. We only just last night realized that we’ll be seeing each other a lot less and discussed what that will mean for us and our relationship. This is a wonderful article, and so much more helpful than what I’ve found on my own

  14. White boards probably saved my marriage when we had our offbeat schedules. Especially when it came to chores, grocery shopping (we just write down what we need as we need it and don’t have to worry if we forgot to add something), menu for the week, and words of encouragement. We’re planning to paint the fridge with chalkboard paint just to add the extra availability to communicate through written word, though we now get a combined 2 full days off together. It’s just helpful no matter what.

    I would also recommend SnapChat. Yes, that thing made famous by teens sexting each other. My husband only works three days a week, but it’s three 16 hour days, so I like to send him snaps of our daughter telling him she loves him, encouraging words from me, or simply our dogs enjoying their treat at the end of the day so he knows they got it. A text is great, but the snaps have helped us really feel like we’re staying connected (though they are bad for holding a conversation).

  15. Wowwww I thought I was alone my husband works 70-80 hour weeks while I take care of home and finish my nursing studies…we dont really have the finances for me to have a hobby to occupy lonely time nor do I think its fair to him for me to take on a fun activity while he has no time for himself this leaves me watching him come and go and sleep extremely lonely.. nights alone are unbearable at times his exhaustion and my crazy cabin fever make time together rather nip bite and argumemtive were currently working on making that time together special I think this will help!

  16. Thanks for posting this, you’re right there isn’t much online and I was feeling guilty for feeling sorry for myself! My husband works in retail and has a different shift pattern every day, with two random days off in the week. I work for a radio station mon to fri but start very early (4:45am) and then go to Bed early too.

    Sometimes I’m asleep before he gets home from work and then I leave whole he’s asleep.

    It’s also hard on his days off, as I get home in the afternoon and try to stay awake so we can do the grocery shopping or have an afternoon lunch date, but having been up since 3am I’m often snappy or grumpy!

    We don’t get weekends together either and I find myself getting lonely and jealous of all our friends and family who have all this quality time together.

    I hope it’s not forever. At least we will never take quality time for granted!

  17. I looooved reading this!!! We have lived together for a little over a year and this is only our second week of him working 4pm-4am and I am really having a hard time. So I thought I’d find internet comfort and all the other blogs talk about kids and well, we don’t have any. Thank you for writing this!!!!

  18. My husband and I have only (and probably will always) work opposite schedules: me = 8am-5pm, him = 11:00pm – 7:00am. It’s been 9 years (dating and marriage combined) and it’s actually only getting worse. He used to “make it work” and find time to spend with me, but as we’re getting older, he sleeps more and more and we see each other less and less. It’s extremely difficult to manage, and with him not getting enough sleep & me feeling more and more lonely you can only imagine the arguments that have ensued. I’m hoping to try a few of the suggestions in this post, but has anyone had to deal with these schedules for the long haul, and did you see it getting worse before it got better? (and still after three years after this initial post, no better articles online! lol)

  19. I found this when googling shiftwork spouses. I was having a pretty down day and needed to realise I’m not alone. I work your typical mon-friday day shift and my husband is a restaurant manager, so he works primarily evenings, unless it’s one of his days off , or a Friday night I’m in bed by the time he gets home and he is sleeping when I get up for work. It’s been several years now, and we make it work pretty well, but every so often that little voice in my head comes and bugs me. I’m not sure how I’d handle having him home every night lol! We always kiss the other when we get home or get up in the morning, even if the other is sleeping. We also leave notes and make time, when he’s home I don’t make plans so we can have quality time together. I’d love if he could work days, but like you said , in an ideal world no one would have to work! But in this world, we do.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation