Nursing Notes

January 13, 2010

Split Shift Living Learn how to maintain healthy relationships while working second and third shifts.

Filed under: Nursing — Shirley @ 6:45 am
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Here’s a useful article about ways to juggle life when you work 2nd or 3rd shift.  This is always a difficult job and it is very difficult to have a life on those shifts.  Read below because she does have some good suggestions on how to manage.  The bottom line, though, is knowing what is important and valuable to you and then working your schedule around that.
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By Amanda Koehler

Second- and third-shift workers have to find time to squeeze certain activities into abnormal times to fit their schedules such as sleeping, eating and exercising. Although it may be difficult to find time to do these things, nurses can figure out when works best for them and get themselves into a routine.

However, maintaining relationships while on second or night shift cannot be done independently. Plus, sometimes family members and friends just don’t get what it’s like to work a different shift. They wonder why you can’t return their phone calls at night (you’re working!) or why you can’t join them for brunch (you’re sleeping!).

Sometimes having to operate on a different schedule than your loved ones means you might miss out on a soccer game or a birthday party. Or sometimes you may feel tempted to sacrifice sleep to spend more time with your partner or kids.

For those who live in the second- or night-shift world, connecting with family and friends can be difficult. But there are ways to make maintaining these relationships as easy as possible under the circumstances.

Maintaining a Connection
How can you keep your friendships going and spend time with your family while working second or third shift? Get out your calendar, folks; it’s all about planning.

“Plan very carefully. Spontaneous get-togethers may have worked before, but they probably won’t now,” said Tina B. Tessina, PhD (aka “Dr. Romance”), psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “Schedule times in advance to be together, and keep your agreements and appointments.”
Staying connected comes in different forms, too. With the invention of social networking media such as Facebook and MySpace, it also has been easier for those working off shift to keep up with their friends and extended family members. It’s important to find out what types of communication work best for you and your loved ones.

For example, if you feel comfortable doing so, it may help to sit your family members and friends down and explain how your life functions while working second or night shift.

Also, if you know there is an event for your child or friend you can’t miss, make sure you, once again, plan ahead.  If all else fails, take a vacation day.

What happens when you absolutely, positively cannot make it to an important game, party or occasion? Tessina recommends having someone videotape the event and then watching it with your loved one later. “You get to share in the moment in that way,” she said.

Sacrificing Sleep?
Working evening or night shifts can already wreak havoc on your circadian rhythm. So should you sacrifice some sleep to spend time with family and friends? Many off shift workers unfortunately see a need to so they can keep up with their loved ones.

Tessina thinks it’s all right to occasionally get less sleep in exchange for more quality time, but not to do it on a regular basis. “If you do it too often, you’ll start to have problems on and off the job, be cranky and lose energy. None of that will help your relationships,” Tessina noted.

Amanda Koehler is assistant editor of ADVANCE.

Sidebar: A ‘Commuter Marriage’

Couples working different shifts actually have a type of “commuter marriage,” because they see each other so little. If you’re spending most of your time apart due to shift changes, chances are it’s so far from your original expectations of marriage that you don’t really know how to handle it.

You may be squabbling about being stuck with all the household chores while your partner pines away in a distant location; or you’re the one who’s all by yourself every night away from home, and you both may be feeling all the intimacy and partnership gradually draining out of your relationship, leaving you with an empty shell where your marriage used to be.

Spouses at home during the day deal with all the household problems: plumbing that doesn’t work, financial decisions to make, all the child rearing and discipline, and all the chores usually shared by two. Spouses at home at night are lonely, isolated and feeling out of touch with family.

You’ve heard a lot from various experts about how important communication and intimacy are to the health and survival of your relationship. But they don’t talk about how to stay in touch when you barely see each other. Phone calls, e-mails, photos and instant messages help, but it’s hard to feel as close when you don’t see each other. It’s also difficult to make joint decisions when one of you doesn’t experience the problems your partner is facing.

If one of you works a “graveyard shift” or rotating shift job that limits your time together, both of you can feel as if you’re separated for extended periods. Schedule juggling can present an enormous problem in this situation, because you are not always in control of when you’re required to be away from home. When you don’t see each other for much of the time, you must solve problems about how the household chores will be handled, bills will be paid, and children and pets will be cared for.

The other major problem with two different schedules is finding time to be at home together. It also is possible to have so much to catch up on when you’re home that there is little time for the two of you to reconnect. When your schedules mesh well, it means one of you can take care of things while the other is gone, and you get enough time together to enjoy each other and feel like a family.

When it works well, this type of alternate commuting can make it possible to have two incomes and still care for children, family members and household responsibilities.

If separate shifts are a long-term situation, your situation offers some benefits and some problems. The benefits are you have time to establish a routine, support systems and even develop a re-entry system that works. The problems, of course, are you are spending a lot of time apart, and keeping your connection and intimacy feeling fresh is not easy. Long-term schedule problems present transition problems because you need to plan for long-term solutions, such as:

Household maintenance: If you are working different shifts, you may need to change your expectations about how well your house or yard will be maintained in one partner’s absence. The dayshift partner may not have enough time or expertise to get it all done alone. The nightshift partner might have to sleep most of the daylight hours. Neither of you have a lot of time for maintenance and housekeeping. If your budget permits, you can pay for some of the maintenance jobs (lawn mowing, basic housekeeping) that neither of you has time for.

Ongoing childcare: Often children are the main reason for splitting shifts in the first place, so at least one parent can be home when the kids are. Keeping on the same page about parenting issues can be tough.

Social networks and support: You might find having a social life is difficult, but most couples need the support of friends and family. You may have to do your social activities on split shifts, too.

New routines for meals, cooking, shopping: If you don’t cook and your partner is not at home, eating and feeding your family can present another problem. For the short term, eating take-out or in restaurants can work OK, but in a long-term situation, you’ll find you may have to develop new resources of food or abilities to cook. A partner who is used to shopping and cooking for two may find eating alone becomes a problem. While this is a great time to go on that diet you’ve wanted to try but haven’t because your partner isn’t on it, it does require some uncomfortable adjustment and rethinking.

Ways to communicate about marriage business: If you’re on split shifts for a long period of time, you may need to find a different way to make decisions about bill paying, hiring help and budgeting. Especially if one partner is sometimes incommunicado at work, the at-home partner needs to have the ability and permission to make occasional unilateral decisions. This can create an uncomfortable change in the power structure of your partnership.

How to stay emotionally close: When the time you have together is scarce for a long period of time, you need to change your routines for keeping in contact and maintaining a strong emotional connection. Splitting shifts for an extended period can be very lonely for both partners, and even if you have close family relationships or strong friendships, it doesn’t replace “pillow talk,” physical affection and shared experience. Making your split shift marriage work begins with getting as realistic a picture of your situation as you can, and then making plans to solve each problem you envision, as well as learning to solve new issues arising on the spot.

- Tina B. Tessina, PhD

You can read the original article here with all the comments.


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5 Comments »

  1. Your readers may want to know that this article is from my book, The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close while you’re Far Apart. http://www.amazon.com/Commuter-Marriage-Relationship-Close-While/dp/1598694324/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1202344648&sr=1-11

    Comment by Tina B. Tessina, PhD LMFT — January 13, 2010 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the information. I hope everyone who reads the blog post gets your book. Working shifts is always hard on relationships–all relationships. I just wanted to let people know that there are ways to maintain your relationships but you have to work at it. Again, thanks for the comment. I meant no harm and I hope you approve of my use of this article.

      Comment by Shirley Williams — January 14, 2010 @ 12:17 am | Reply

  2. They both would have to have a great deal in common to hold
    things together.–>
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    Comment by zarmpnuh — March 30, 2010 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

  3. [...] him out of bed before 4 p.m. He hardly sleeps on Saturday night, then he sleeps all day Sunday. It wrecks major havoc on our [...]

    Pingback by Another week begins « My Loopy World — August 22, 2010 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  4. Help! My long-term boyfriend has just got a job working second shifts… long second shifts (4p-3a, M-Sa)… six days a week. I have a normal job working normal hours, and I am at an absolute loss. Unless I don’t sleep at night I DO NOT see him except on Sundays. Beyond that, he has two children from a previous relationship that he does not get to see except on Sundays as well, so time is split between me and the kids. Is there any way to make this work???

    Comment by Stacy — September 25, 2010 @ 3:00 am | Reply


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