Living well when your spouse works weird shifts takes patience, prayer and a commitment to making time for each other, regardless of the crazy hours.
For the bulk of our 19 years together, my hubby has worked the midnight shift. He prefers it, and since he’s the one bringing in the paycheck, I figure he’s earned the right to choose.
Besides, I enjoy my quiet time when the kids are sleeping, the dogs are snoring and my guy has gone to work.
Being married to someone that works shift work isn’t for everyone. If you are a person that needs to have your spouse around whenever things go wrong (furnace goes out, kids get sick, the dog pukes on the carpet – well, you get the idea), you may need to do any or all of these things:
1. If you aren’t married yet, be careful, and really consider if this is the right person for you. TALK to each other. Express your concerns with your soon-to-be spouse. If you don’t talk, and you go into your marriage with the expectation that your spouse’s hours will change, you may be very disappointed along the way.
Ex. It took my hubby nearly 18 years to have enough seniority to bid for weekends off and that was working the midnight shift. After 23 years in his job, if he wanted to work day shift, he still wouldn’t have enough seniority to get weekends off.
2. If you are already married, and for whatever reason, your spouse changes jobs or the work hours change, TALK to each other and express your concerns.
With service jobs, like firefighters, paramedics, ER doctors and nurses, police officers, air traffic controllers and 911 dispatchers, only the most extreme emergencies warrant calling them home.
You will likely have to deal with minor emergencies by yourself.
Ex. My oldest daughter decided to be born in the middle of the night while my hubby was at work. He couldn’t leave until his supervisor found a replacement for him.
Since she was born a week early, our plans were completely messed up, but he made it home in time to take me to the hospital. You need to have realistic expectations of what is possible and always have a back-up plan.
3. If your spouse works in a service industry (see the list in point #2), during area-wide emergencies, or natural disasters, you may be on your own for days.
Have a HUGE support system (extended family, church family and/or neighbors) that can help when you are alone.
If you only rely on your unavailable spouse, it will create tension in your relationship and could lead to a breakdown of the marriage.
Ex. On February 1st, 2011, a HUGE blizzard blew through the Chicago area overnight and into the next day.
Even in the horrific, white-out conditions, he was still required to report to work. He left in the blizzard, and I expected to not see him for a couple of days, at least.
As you can see in this picture of our front yard, all of the driveways, sidewalks and walkways were cleared before he made it home.
Those of us trapped at home came out and cleared the snow. We all helped each other and had some fun, too.
Be sure to build and nurture neighborhood friendships; they can be invaluable.
4. Expect change, embrace change and don’t gripe at your spouse when those changes are out of his or her control.
Ex. Sixteen months ago, my guy suffered an on-the-job injury. He’s finally back to work full-time, but because of the timing of his return, he’s on a schedule that seems to change every few days.
His hours stink, he’s stressed about it, and me being cranky would just add to his stress. We’ve always made things work, so that’s what we do. Adjust, smile and know that another change is just around the corner.
5. Plan family time and time together as a couple. Find a way to ENJOY each other’s company. Talk to each other. Express yourself. If you assume your spouse knows what you’re thinking or feeling, you’ll be wrong.
Ex. Assume = A$$ out of U and ME. Go on a date night, send the kids to a relatives for the weekend and have a “staycation”, be sure to talk to each other, and practice your faith together. Praying as a family and having family meals is vital to reinforcing family bonds.
6. Learn how to handle small emergencies like an overflowing toilet, a blown circuit breaker or a power outage.
Keep a bucket and a flashlight handy, just in case.
7. Seek out another spouse for advice. Find the spouse of one of your spouse’s co-workers that has some experience at this shift-work thing.
They can have invaluable advice and be part of your support system.
8. Expect to celebrate nearly every holiday, birthday, anniversary, and special occasion on any date but the actual one, especially in the early years if scheduling is based on seniority.
It’s just part of the deal. (Added this point and the next two after the original publication. I realized these points were just too important to leave out of the body of this post).
Ex. Our anniversary is in a couple of weeks. We already know that he will be working that afternoon shift. We will not be able to celebrate on our actual anniversary, so we’ll pick another day to go out and have dinner.
9. Be prepared to deal with cancelled plans if your spouse works a service job that may force them into overtime. (I added this one, too, since it goes hand-in-hand with number 8).
Ex. Several months ago, we had plans to meet with a friend’s family for a lunch time visit. My hubby was working midnights at the time, and ended up in the middle of a huge mess at the end of his shift and couldn’t get away.
He finally made it home 6 hours after his shift ended, and the plans that had taken weeks to coordinate with our very busy, shift-working friends, had to be rescheduled. Go with it. Stuff happens.
10. Give your spouse “transition time” after arriving home after their shift.
Many of the service industry jobs can be highly stressful. Your spouse may have seen things or been required to do things on shift that were gut-wrenching, emotional, or downright disgusting.
Give your spouse some time and space to come back to the reality of family and home life without pressing them with questions, or to join in the family activities right away.
(Thank you, Steve DeLuca, friend and fellow ChicagoNow! blogger – God Is My Running Partner – for reminding me of this one)!
The greatest gift I’ve given my spouse is allowing him to choose the hours he works, and providing him with a safe haven to come home to.
We love each other, but we really like each other, too.
We enjoy spending time together, so we make the most of the small chunks of time alone that we get. We laugh at each other and with each other ALL the time.
We are a united front in our parenting and our children know that even though there are two of us and two of them, we still outnumber them!
If you have a spouse that works funky shifts, let me know how you manage the odd hours.
Sign up for emails and join me on facebook at There’s a Bug in My Coffee to continue our chats and offer advice to each other on living well when your spouse works weird shifts.
Update: My hubby’s shifts changed from 8 hour shifts to 12 hour shifts, and guess what? I blogged about it! Click here to read it.
Ephesians 4:2-3 (NIV)
2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Proverbs 17:14 (NIV)
14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
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