Shiftwork + marriage = dealbreaker?
February 12, 2018 6:57 AM   Subscribe

After 7 years with a husband on shiftwork I have realized that the shiftwork has made it difficult for me to feel settled, at home and like family with my husband. I had a childhood of abuse/neglect/instability and still struggle with anxiety & ADHD and long for a certain homey rhythm of life.

We are mid 40s, no kids.

My husband briefly took a short leave from his regular job to work at a job more suited to his talents and passions. The hours were straight days. During that time I felt very settled and peaceful. He changed his mind (the new job paid less) and went back to the shiftwork.

We are seeing a marriage counselor. My husband says it would be a few years before he'd be comfortable making a career change. I am not sure I can wait that long.

My question is not so much about shiftwork but rather the struggle with thinking about leaving the marriage over such a seemingly trivial thing. I feel like I have been holding my breath for all these years, waiting for our homelife to gel. I am now thinking that maybe it is a mismatch in lifestyle.

Any thoughts?
posted by i_mean_come_on_now to Human Relations (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It might help if you provide more info abt his shifts, e.g., does he work the same shift with regular days off or does his schedule change every week.
posted by she's not there at 7:10 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

My partner has been on nights with his days off changing every week for the past three years and it's absolutely taken a toll on our relationship, and while I am not considering leaving over it, I might be if he didn't agree with me that the situation is not sustainable and he wasn't working to change it. I don't think your feelings are unreasonable at all.

It may be a mismatch in lifestyle but more importantly it's a mismatch in that he doesn't think your unhappiness is important enough to make a change over.
posted by corvine at 7:17 AM on February 12, 2018 [12 favorites]

You say maybe it's a mismatch in lifestyle, which implies that you had some conversation with him in which he said some things you didn't tell us about here. When he was working days, how he was feeling about home-life? Did it feel really different at home to him vs when he does shiftwork? Importantly, did he like the differences?

Time management, household responsibilities, how to spend time together, implied prioritization of you vs himself vs the job vs the career vs the marriage - this is very much not a trivial thing, and it is on the level of questioning a marriage. But the first step is to talk. Not only to express that you're unhappy but to find out how he feels, what makes him happy, what makes him unhappy. Sure he's told people he went back to shiftwork because it paid more, but that is one criteria of many - what else was on his mind? Did it make him nervous to change jobs? Did it make him anxious to have less money? Did he feel more expectations from you while he was home? Find out as much as possible about WHY he made those choices, and then talk to him about all the ways those choices affect you. Then you can problem-solve together about ways you can maybe address things both of you want or both of you don't want.
posted by aimedwander at 7:27 AM on February 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

> thinking about leaving the marriage over such a seemingly trivial thing

I don't think it's trivial at all. It's how you spend your life. Years ago when I was a consultant full time and recently married, my wife expressed serious concern about the difficultly those hours placed on our life and the severity of my work life balance.

I didn't take it too seriously, because my career was my life and I could just try a little harder to be present and it would all be fine. I'm smart and talented, this will all be fine. It'll be fine.

That week I was speaking at an industry conference; one night I'm eating dinner with 13 other men in my industry all about 20+ years my senior. Not 1 of 13 was married to their first wife. Not one. Many didn't even talk to the kids from their first family. They playfully teased me about my "first wife"

The next morning I decided to change careers. It was a step back financially but it saved my marriage and made me a much happier person. Now years later; with 2 kids and a house, I have a life that simply wouldn't have been possible without listening to my wife and making that change.
posted by French Fry at 7:31 AM on February 12, 2018 [116 favorites]

Your husband has done you a service by being honest with you. He doesn't see himself in a different career for "a few years." There's such a marked difference between shift work and a normal schedule that he may never want to change his hours. I would take this as a sign that you should maybe divorce, yes.

In my experience relationships break up over shift work all the time.
posted by tooloudinhere at 7:39 AM on February 12, 2018

The first thing I will say here is - it's not trivial. What matters to you matters to you.

However - as someone who is married to a shift worker (and is overnight on-call), I wonder whether or not there is stuff that your husband or you can do to mitigate the impact. I also wonder how your communication in general is - especially as your husband seems to have made this decision knowing its impact on you.

My wife and I proactively communicate when our schedules are entirely off-kilter (as in - we are never awake and at home at the same time for a week at a time) - things that are coming up, tasks that each would like to see happen in the week, and meal planning (i.e., ensuring the other has healthy lunches for work when we're cooking, etc.) We call each other every day to say I love you at a minimum. We also make a point of planning a date the first day we are both off to connect emotionally.

So - if you're done, you're done, but I share those things as potential ways to explore making your marriage work around shift work.
posted by notorious medium at 7:51 AM on February 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

My husband travels a lot for work and will be gone all week. He would work on the weekends and catch up on sleep. It made it very difficult when I was working and had to manage the kids and house.

I get through a lot of things with "self talk". When it was difficult and the baby had colic, and the water heater broke, and I was by myself snowed in I'd remind myself -- people for generations have held families together although their husbands were whalers away for months or years, away driving cattle, or off on hunting expeditions. Women had to run the farm and fetch the water and cut wood, gather food.
These are the folks whose blood runs through my veins. If that can do THAT, I totally got this.
posted by beccaj at 8:04 AM on February 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is what ultimatums are for. Tell him it's you or this lifestyle, but not both. That's not manipulative at all; it's honest, and if he doesn't know how seriously you take this situation, then it's on you to make sure he understands.
posted by amtho at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I just broke up with someone because they worked alternating nights and days with irregular time off. He thought it wasn't a big deal and also refused to explicitly communicate and plan for times when our schedules lined up, instead just kind of "letting it happen". Things never gelled and we never had a solid routine or any kind of dependability. It's a HUGE deal to have different schedules, especially if one person won't take extra steps to deal with it. It is ok to be upset by this.
posted by cakebatter at 8:28 AM on February 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

You're already in your 40s and your home life doesn't feel settled and peaceful to you. That's a serious matter. It also doesn't sound like your husband absolutely has to be in the shiftwork job to keep the bills paid.

What's striking to me is that your husband chooses the shiftwork over more regular time with you and a job more suited to his interests and passions. Most of the professional people working the jobs with terrible hours are trying to pay off their student loans and position themselves to leave for that job they actually care about. He got the job and he left it. So is your husband tremendously anxious about making his financial contribution to the family? Is the job an excuse for not making himself emotionally available to you? Or does he simply not know what to do with himself when he's not working weird hours that conveniently disrupt a regular life?
posted by praemunire at 9:03 AM on February 12, 2018 [14 favorites]

people for generations have held families together although their husbands were whalers away for months or years, away driving cattle, or off on hunting expeditions. Women had to run the farm and fetch the water and cut wood, gather food. These are the folks whose blood runs through my veins. If that can do THAT, I totally got this.

This kind of self-talk does help with just getting through things at the time, whatever might be going on. But I'd caution you that it's not a replacement for actually setting things up in a way that works for both of you. Yeah, I think about my ancestors who came over the sea on giant ships, voyaging for many weeks to establish settlements, and how if they could do it, I can too. But I also consider that it's 2018 and I shouldn't have to live like I'm on the edge of the world, unsure of what life's vicissitudes might bring. Heh. I hear you on the desire for more stability than that.

I definitely don't have all the answers, of course. I've had the unpredictability of my husband's shift work on top of his chronic illnesses, and that's taken a toll on us, too. It's extra difficult when he's not only chronically ill, but also has to be OK to work at a different time on any given day, with only a certain number of times he can call out before corporate policy kicks in. One thing I can think of that helps, when he follows through on it, is posting his schedule for the coming week on a marker board, so we can at least plan ahead a little bit. I'm wondering if, like me, you aren't getting a lot of information or insight into his schedule changes, and/or he takes on extra work when more shifts are available, so you're never sure when he'll be home and when he won't be, and you end up doing things alone a lot. That's definitely frustrating, if so.

I work from home, and I know that for those of us who do, the one consistent difficulty our partners tend to mention is that it's sometimes hard for them to know when we're at work and when we're not. The uncertainty and inability to predict and plan around your partner's work can be one of the hardest things about both working flexibly from home and shift work. I think it's possible for one's partner to work shifts or work from home and still maintain a satisfying and more steady home life, but it takes work and commitment from the person whose schedule is unpredictable.

Also, it's nice when there's at least some overlap in your time off. If you're continually passing each other like ships in the night, with days off spent recovering, rather than being together, that makes it exceedingly hard to maintain a true partnership. This may vary, depending on the particular employer and the nature of the shifts, but one thing that has also helped at various points has been when my husband requested to always have certain days off for a period of time. Something like that, making a certain day of the week off-limits in his schedule, if you also have that day off, could be good. But again, this takes commitment and communication.

All of this makes me think a bit about narrative: What is the shared narrative of your relationship? What is your purpose in being together—what drives you to be with each other and spend time together? For a lot of people, that's to have kids and do all the things that come with that. You guys are mid-forties with no kids, and while you don't say whether kids are something you'd still want at some point, it sounds like you may be on a different path than that. That's totally fine—but you need to be able to work together to create your own narrative, in that case. This can be something you guys work through together in counseling. But yeah, not to project too much from my own situation, but it sounds like commitment, follow-through, and working together to build a shared narrative and a better life together are some of the things you need to move forward from here.
posted by limeonaire at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

I've been married for 11 years and my husband has always worked a different, shift schedule, as first he was working at restaurants and now he's a police officer. It's difficult, and you're not alone in your feelings. I feel like it takes a really long time to get used to it. The only thing I can suggest is finding yourself some hobbies and things that fulfill YOU, separate from him. It doesn't mean your relationship is any LESS than anyone else because you don't spend as much time together. Also, discuss setting up times on his days off to do things together, and then do nothing at all and relax.

It's not trivial, trust me. It's rough, and takes some strong people to make it work long term.
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2018

It isn't trivial. It's why I'm not a chef, and why despite that I still wound up getting divorced and otherwise remarried. You can grieve the loss of your relationship. You can grieve the loss of your pay, savings, and lifestyle. You can grieve the loss of your husband's career (if he decides to change).

All of these things are worthy of grief. Counseling is absolutely critical. You all need to understand that the conditions of your relationship have changed, and as a result your strategy together needs to change. Counseling can help you both make as mutually minimally painful a decision as possible.

Remember: you are asking him to give up what he knows he is good at and where his career has been for years. You are asking him to give up the yardstick with which he has likely measured his life's worth up until this point. He is hopefully implicitly expecting you to not measure your relationship in the absences, but instead of the quality of the time spent together.

That does not mean that you are wrong, and that you should stop pushing - that means that you and he need to recognize that the measurement of the success of your relationship is not just what he quantifies it as. As such, his assumption that you should shoulder the angst is just as valid as the posit that he should return to the lower paying non-shift job. You need to work together to recognize what you both want and compromise on how to get there.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's not clear from your question if you work outside the home yourself. Is offering to get a better-paying job, to make up the difference he experiences going from shift work to straight days, an option? Or, if you don't currently work outside now, could you offer to start a part-time job to offset that difference?

You've a right to feel secure in your marriage and in your home life, as well as the right to define what that security looks like to you. You don't feel secure now. Kudos to you for identifying the cause, and for already seeing a marriage counselor. Definitely discuss options and compromises during a session, because this is not a trivial matter. Not feeling like your husband is your family, especially after all these years together, is a big deal.

(If your husband is adamant about not changing jobs again, he needs to be fully on-board for working out something to try to solidify your life together -- you have this shared hobby you participate in together every ____, you have at least one meal a day together (and you communicate during it, it can't be just sitting at the same table while someone's not yet awake or is entirely too tired after a long day), whatever it is. You can make your own traditions and build some predictability around his work schedule, and see how that helps meet this need. But you can't do it alone, and you're alone in your marriage right now. People have divorced for less.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:13 PM on February 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I mean this in the most helpful way possible, but you might want to approach this from the perspective that shift work is a normal part of life for a lot of people and no one is entitled to a spouse who only works 9-5. Shift work is a normal, if not expected part of life for blue-collar folk as well as many medical workers. It doesn't (have to) break up marriages, and it doesn't (necessarily) ruin lives. I'm sure you know this intellectually, but perspective is handy.

That said, dealing with the effect of shift work on your lives together takes a fair bit of acknowledgement and active management from both of you. If the issue begins and ends at "it's my job, I do what I have to do, I'm an adult" for him, then that's an problem.
posted by blerghamot at 2:34 PM on February 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

I’m going to take this from the trauma and neglect angle. There’s no doubt that the scheduling is significant in a marriage. But I wonder a bit if that is as critical a piece as that post-traumatic “can’t settle in” feeling, which definitely happened to me even when my husband and I were working for the same organization with similar hours. I don’t know if you’ve done good therapy work on that and are now adddressing the other stuff or not.

For me searching for marriage stability, I sort of liken this to the way some only children grow up with a very idealized view of what siblings are like, best friends always, etc. All married people need to be relatively ok with their own company as well as enjoying companionship and I would just not want you to be overshooting so to speak.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:05 PM on February 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

My ex-husband's schedule and lack of a regular family life contributed significantly to my unhappiness and the erosion of our marriage. Between weird shifts and odd jobs, he wasn't home a lot during the week, and on weekends he'd get up early to go hunting or fishing and would be gone the whole day. That was a big point of contention. He did work hard, so he felt entitled to relax and do what he wanted when he was off. Which I understand, to a point.

But for me, I like lazy Saturdays hanging out at home with my spouse, and not having plans but just doing whatever. But the only way he would forego Saturday fishing is if I had something else planned for us to do (as in going somewhere and doing something.) We could never hang out as a family and just be.

I also found it hard because we had a young child and so I couldn't really go off and do things on my own. I felt like a single parent. (Yet of course not allowed to date and potentially find someone... lol.)

For his part, he felt like I wanted him to "sit at my feet" at home, waiting for me to have a use for him. He was bored, felt constricted, and it drove him bonkers. So really, it was a basic incompatibility in lifestyle preferences.

So no, I don't think it is a trivial thing to be thinking of splitting up over. It's hard to be lonely in a marriage, to not have predictable family time/couple time, to not be able to sit down to dinner regularly, or wake up on Saturday and have a cozy, lazy weekend together.

One of the things I like best about my current marriage is that my husband rarely goes out on the weekend unless we decide to go do something together. We don't spend every waking moment interacting with one another, but it's nice having the option to talk or snuggle or go do something spontaneously, rather than me feeling like I have to plan an entertaining event or my husband has no use for my company.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:11 AM on February 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

« Older Should I get a flu shot before an upcoming work...   |   need "sunglasses" for my office Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.