Six Ways to Deal When You and Your Partner Have Opposite Schedules
If you look in the DSM-5, photos of my boyfriend Paul and I appear under the headings for Type-B and Type-A personalities, respectively. These differences are what make us work: he reminds me to slow down, to appreciate the small things in life, and I remind him to file his taxes. Our jobs are different, too: he’s a bartender; I run a freelance editorial business. I work 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., sometimes longer; as a member of the service industry, he keeps a nocturnal schedule.
After my high school boyfriend and I went through two disastrous breakups, I swore not to date long-distance again, but dating someone on a different work schedule can feel like dating in different time zones, too. Partners of service-industry employees, first responders, nurses, doctors and other shift workers might be able to relate. Or, perhaps you’re on the same work schedule as your partner and facing a sudden time interruption, like the arrival of a new baby or a longer commute to a new job. Either way, here’s how we’ve learned to cope.
1. Make time for one another
I aim to spend at least one waking hour with Paul per day. Due to the uncertain hours of our jobs, some days we exceed this benchmark, while others find us struggling to make it. On the struggle-days, our hour may not take place all at once, but it’s always spent advantageously. We might catch each other up on life while we cook, eat dinner and clean up, or I might suggest a walk around the block on my lunch break. (If you work away from home, lunch or another regularly scheduled break is the perfect time to send your significant other a text or give them a call to let them know you’re thinking of them. If you do this often enough, you may “train” each other to be near the phone for your daily lunch chat.)
2. Make time … but not too much!
Not enough that your personal interests suffer, that is. In addition to editing my clients’ work, I’m trying to polish my own novel to send out to agents. This spring, I kept feeling guilty and resentful about my needs, both when I spent free time with Paul and when I spent free time on the book. When I finally shared my feelings with him, he said, “You should never feel guilty for that.” Now, on a day when I’ve spent some time with him, I let him know I’m going to make time to write. He nods and goes off to play a video game or brush up on wine terroir (his own passions). We may get more time together after my writing session, too, and this time apart helps make it all the better.
3. Absence makes the texts grow fonder
Nowadays, many relationships are maintained on the phone. There’s no shame in that; lean into it! When Paul is working a night shift, I text him just before going to sleep. When I’m working, he loves to send me thought-provoking news articles and cute hedgehog videos to watch when I have a free minute. Avoid sending too many memes; this can stray away from the loving and thoughtful message you want to convey and into chain-letter territory. In other words, keep your phone-based communication personal. If you remember your partner is nervous about part of their workday, send them a good-luck text before their big meeting. (I always send Paul a good-luck message before his bar gets slammed during our city’s monthly art walk.)
4. Be present, in-person
When you spend time with your person, put the phone away and focus. By all means, if you’re expecting an important call from work or a family member, let your partner know why you’re keeping the phone out—but if you have a limited amount of time, your Instagram Story can wait. Instead, enjoy the here and now. Compliment your partner on the effort they put into their outfit; focus on the sound of their voice or what holding hands feels like; ask questions about their job, and share funny stories (or the things that are worrying you) from yours. Being present like this, you might come to see your significant other as an oasis of mindfulness at the end of your day.
Being present is also about taking the temperature of a conversation instead of blinding forging ahead. Some partners may be eager to talk about each other’s days, while others might feel resentful that “work talk” is encroaching on your private time. This may even change from day to day. If you’re not sure how your partner will feel, a good rule of thumb is to ask, “Hey, can I rant about work for a second?” or, “Can I tell you something funny that happened on our conference call today?” instead of launching right in.
5. Don’t settle into a rut
Paul and I live together, so it’s easy to let time together devolve into dinner and whatever show we’ve been binge-watching. Though there is a fair amount of that, we try to go on “adventures” from time to time. Some of my favorite recent adventures have included a visit to the local art museum and a progressive dinner we host with our neighbors once a month. We also like to leave cute or flirty Post-It notes around the apartment for the other to find, even if we aren’t there to see their reaction.
If you don’t cohabitate: Together, find and block out a regular time each week that can be reserved for the two of you. Maybe it’s paired with an activity you both enjoy, like your running club or an at-home movie night. Maybe it’s taking the earlier suggestion of regular FaceTime chats or texting on work breaks. With scheduled time you both respect, no plans will pop out of the blue and overtake the time you thought you had agreed to share.
6. Above all, be patient with each other
We all go through good and bad seasons; sometimes we’re just not at our best. There was February and March of 2017 when my business was ramping up faster than I could handle, and I pulled all-nighter after all-nighter. There was this past summer, during which Paul quit smoking. These were pretty snappy situations in which one or both of us had short fuses. I used to dwell on these bad times, especially if we’d been snippy and wouldn’t see each other for 12 hours or more. Now, I realize it’s par for the course.
Loving someone with a different work schedule is all about balance. It’s not always ideal, but you can address it and move past it; you will be OK. Someday in that hypothetical future, you might even have too much time with each other, and you’ll have to find a way to cope with that. Until then, take it a day at a time, enjoying every moment—however you can find it.
Jessica Hatch is a professional editor and publicist who got her start at such New York literary establishments as St. Martin’s Press and Writers House. Her words have been published on LearnVest, Fast Company, and Money.com. Jessica lives in Jacksonville, Florida, where she enjoys providing story consultation services to aspiring and established writers alike, through the use of a prescriptive, practical editing system. Say hello at www.hatch-books.com