This gorgeously sunny morning view from an August trip to Rehoboth Beach, DE is one that I think of often. Most days when it creeps from my memory to consuming my current thoughts are on the mornings that Joey leaves the house at 6:45 a.m. to get to work and I am lazily making my way out of bed, or the days that he works the 2 -10:30 p.m. shift and I am leaving the house while he is still in bed. That morning in particular, we took our time drinking our coffee, waking up on the front porch of this cutie little Scandinavian styled bungalow that we found. (I mean really, this place was impeccably designed.)
Whenever I am frustrated with the sporadic nature of our work schedules, I take myself back to that morning, and it always gets me thinking about how I can optimize the time that we do have together. If I had to guess, I would say about 70% (*based strictly on no actual mathematical calculations) of couples I know have work schedules that conflict, at least a little bit. I’m talking anywhere from sporadic three or four hour differences to one working overnights and the other working a “traditional” nine-to-five. I’m pretty sure it would take me days to list all the potential combinations and variations that may exist.
Plus, if we add location to the mix, there are so many combinations of commute time and long-distance out there that we won’t even be touching that topic today. — (Which believe me, Joey and I did 7 years of long distance in college so I know those challenges well and that warrants its own damn post!) Because our work schedules are not easily changed (for the most part) I find it best to think creatively about how you can change habits and behaviors to work with your schedule, instead of always fighting against it.
For context, I am pulling from my own experience and the experiences that some dear friends and families have shared with me, without naming names or giving any identifying details! (You’re welcome.) That means, the information and ideas shared below should be considered to be on a spectrum. There won’t be one magical fix or idea to make everything easy, however, feel free to adapt the thoughts below to make the most sense for your own situation.
Share a Meal Whenever You Can
The biggest hack I suggest for this is planning ahead of time and being intentional. Even if the best option is to just order-in food, or even meet at a restaurant for dinner, by planning ahead you are avoiding the time-warp of the “I don’t care, what do you want for dinner?” Then, what if you share the same day off from work? Make it a point to reserve it as a “make no plans” day and focus on sharing at least one meal that day, just the two of you. Carving out just one hour of time to spend with your love can make a big difference.
Ready to take it to the next level? If sharing a meal is a rarity, when you are able to come together try eating your meal without distraction: no tv, no phones, just conversation. One last thought if anyone out there is in a long distance relationship. Consider planning video-chat dinner dates where you and your love make the same recipe, or choose the same type of take-out. A teeny bit of effort can go a really far way.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Make a strategy: how can one of you use your schedule to benefit both of you? Divide and conquer your collective to-do list. Is there an errand that is difficult for you to run due to your work schedule that your partner could run for you? Or does one of you hate doing a specific task and the other doesn’t mind?
For me often times it is getting to the post office or sending out packages. Most days I am at work 8:30 until 5:30 ish and although I have a lunch break that would allow me to scoot out quick, the parking at my work is extremely tough and if I leave my spot mid-day, I can forget about finding one again anywhere near my actual building. I typically ask Joey to do this types of errand when he works the late shift and is able to make it to the post office during their open hours. On the flip side, Joey does not love grocery shopping. I, on the other hand, actually oddly enjoy it. (It’s an easy win — a productive task that is not difficult and does not require too much thought? Sign me up!).
Take Better Care of Yourself
Find a healthy way to process and relieve stress to improve your overall mood when you do have time with your partner. At the end of your work day, is there a healthy habit you can begin doing to shake-off all of the work-related stresses from the day to allow you to be present with and attentive to your partner? Going to the gym? Singing passionately on the commute home? Taking a shower immediately when you get home and imagining all of the stresses of your day washing away? Doing a quick 5 minute gratitude meditation to bring things into perspective and lower your heart rate from the day?
Personally, if I have a particularly stressful day and do not want to necessarily talk about it when I get home, I will let Joey know that I need a hot sec. to gather my thoughts and unwind. I usually change out of my work clothes and imagine all of the layers of the stress of the day being peeled off as I change into fresh, comfy, cozy clothes. I honestly imagine it being like a night taking of its armor and feeling the heaviness of the day being lifted off. (A little out there, I know, but it works for me.) When we first moved in together, we discussed our own needs when it comes to our energy management or stress management so that neither one of us feels rejected if we say to each other “I just need a little bit of time to process the day.”
Remain Open to Sharing Interests
This one inspired by an Instagram post I shared back in October — in the post I wrote: “Before you get too impressed, let me just put it out there that I don’t golf. I tried once and wasn’t too bad at putting (actually had a birdie putt in a captain and crew tourney once in college), but was pretty terrible at every other aspect. So why am I sharing this photo? Last Saturday Joey took me out on the course for me to see just how beautiful it is and to share with me what exactly it’s like when he goes golfing. For like 2 years he kept telling me that I would love how peaceful it is and invited me to go with him.
I started thinking about the importance of being open to new opportunities. And even more so, remaining open when someone is saying to you ‘hey I want to share this thing that is important to me, with you.’ In this example — I’m talking about staying in tune and open to sharing your partner’s interests (although this could easily apply to friends, siblings, parents, etc). Would it be easy just to play into the cliche narrative, and huff and puff while saying judgmentally ‘oh yeah, my husband is always watching sports and playing golf?’ Yes. That would be easy. But why not remain open, positive, and in tune to the invitation to try something new?
From remaining open to sharing interests over the years, I have become a huge @buffalosabres fan. I LOVE watching hockey and get super into it now. << And, this goes both ways, friends. >> Does Joey love watching The Great British Bake Off with me? Did he LOVE going on historic mansion tours with me? Probably not. But, he knows these things bring me joy and is open to sharing these things with me.”
So, what to do next with all of this information? It is all about the intentional use of the time that you do have together (or separate) to optimize the shared moments. Talk with your partner. Share your thoughts, needs, reflections. And, try your best to approach the conversation from an abundance mindset — thinking of all the ways you can share moments together, instead of the deficit mindset of focusing on all of the time you aren’t able to spend together.