Shakespeare may have said, "the course of true love never did run smooth," but scientists are the ones who proved the course is even rockier when the people involved in a relationship worked different shifts. And the odds are pretty good that if one or both halves of a couple is a nurse, some sort of poorly aligned shift schedules are involved. Short of breaking up, is there any way to address the issue? Sure. First, though, consider the evidence that the problem isn't in your stars but in your schedule. Studies suggesting that shift work increases the divorce rate - sometimes by as much as half - go back to the 1990s, according to Circadian UK.
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One of the reasons Circadian cited for the increase came from sociologist Lynn White, who authored a study on the topic. She said having different shifts may "reduce the barriers" to divorce by "encouraging more independent lifestyles and reducing spouses' psychological dependence on one another." And there's an added ick factor that you may have observed even if you haven't been involved yourself: according to White, having different schecules may "increase alternative attractions" by introducing shift workers to a "nighttime community that is less committed to conventional lifestyles."
Okay, so it's tough, but what are you going to do? It's pretty much a given that you won't start out with a great, dating-friendly shift as a nurse, and if you've been seeking the best wages or the most family-friendly schedule, you may not be able to switch shifts even as an experienced nurse.
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So if your nursing schedule doesn't have much squirm room but you still need some romance in your life, here are some suggestions from work-life balance pros:
Be alert to the feelings from different schedules
"The partner working the [shift work] job may experience feelings of guilt regarding being away from the home," Donna M. White, LMHC, CACP, said on Psych Central. "They may feel frustrated and 'left out' due to being unable to participate in particular events or family time. On the other hand, the other partner with more regular hours may experience feelings of loneliness. If there are children or others to be cared for in the home, this partner may feel a greater sense of responsibility and accountability. These feelings may lead to resentment and frustration."
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Focus on where the opposite schedules are actually great
"Take advantage of the good aspects to your schedule. There likely will be times, such as when you're working on a Friday or a Saturday night, when it feels like you married your work schedule instead of your spouse," noted Ciradian. "Make an effort to take advantage of the good aspects of your schedule to help your relationship. For example, some work schedules, such as many that use 10- or 12-hour shifts, include regular breaks of three or more days. With advance planning, you can use these breaks to plan special events and trips with your spouse. This can be a great way to recharge the marriage battery."
Touch base at least once a week
According to Inc., it's a good idea to separate the chore talk from the social and fun aspect of your relationship. "Carve out 15 minutes every week to talk in person about concerns, issues around the house, parenting troubles and anything else that requires action. Anything more than 15 minutes, outside of a genuine crisis of course, is not helpful. However, this time is critical so that one partner doesn't feel like they're taking on all the responsibility. Communication is critical, especially when you can make it in person."
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Build trust by keeping the smallest commitments
According to time management consultant Elizabeth Grace Saunders in Fast Company, when you're not around each other a lot, it's important to make plans and then keep them if at all possible. "When one partner loses control of their work schedule, it often starts to violate the sense of trust the relationship is founded on - no matter how unscheduled and freewheeling your lifestyles are already," she said. "Every relationship needs some consistency, and every partner deserves some reliability. Without it, you may begin to feel you can't count on the person you're supposed to be able to count on most." Sure, your work feels important and you may panic. "But relationships aren't built or broken in a fell swoop; they develop or erode over time. Each time you make a commitment and then break it - no matter how small - you're chiseling away at that underlying trust. Each time you make and keep a commitment, you're doing the opposite," she said.
Don't base your self-worth on how much attention you're getting
"For those who date, marry or are involved in any other type of long-term personal relationship with somebody who works too much, it's often the case that you're cared for more than you may realize," Saunders noted. "That doesn't mean accepting less attention than you need or deserve, of course. But it helps to remind yourself, too, that your worth is also intrinsic. You might feel hurt because your partner hasn't made it home for dinner, and that's worth talking about. But you aren't less worthy of love because of it."