by Annie Gurton, Imago Relationship Therapist from Sydney’s Northern Beaches

It can be difficult enough for couples to find enough quality time together but doubly hard if one or both are shift workers. The only way is to schedule and plan, so that you ensure you don’t become ships passing in the night. Without attention and awareness, its too easy for shift workers’ relationships to become neglected, and to wither and die.

Its necessary to be mindful that you eat, rest and play together. In ordinary relationships these things happen organically, without thinking about it; not so when one is getting up as the other is preparing to sleep, and timetables keep changing. Every week has to have allocations for each of these activities, and you have to actually sit down and work out when your schedules overlap to ensure that you both get all your needs met.


The best approach is to recognise that there are advantages to having weird working and resting patterns. You can be off when everyone else is at work, and so avoid rush and traffic, and you can take rest when others are compelled to be commuting. A lot of shift workers have three or four days off in one block, and these times can be used to bond and re-bond with your partner.

However the partner who is the shift worker is likely to find that they need extra time to recover from the disturbances of the shift rhythms, and both parties have to allow for irritation and temperamental feelings, which are a normal part of having our eating and sleeping patterns changed. This recovery time has to be build into the schedule.

Its also important – even more important than in a regular relationship – to keep in touch. Call and SMS each other several times a day. And increase your attention to conscious loving behaviours. In Imago Relationship Therapy we recommend that all couples, and particularly those with odd working hours or other stresses on the relationship, make extra and regular efforts to be romantic.

Remember the things that your partner used to do for you that helped you fall in love with them? Ask that they do them again – and recall the things that you used to do, and restart them again.

In Imago relationship work we also recommend that couples, particularly those in shift work, share your appreciation of each other on a regular basis. All couples should be doing this, but particularly those where some negativity or criticism has started to creep in, or the relationship is being placed under the unnatural stress of shift work.   You start to appreciate each other by being curious about the other, look at them in a cool, long way, and make a list of all the things you really love about them. It may be physical, it may be temperamental or personality, it may be a behaviour, but list them and tell them on a regular basis – ‘Something I really love about you is …. ‘ ‘and when I see that in you I feel …’   You may find thats its easier to complain about what you do not like, but gradually you will find that the process of becoming conscious of the little (and big!) things that you like and love, they become the main things you see when you think of your partner.

It really does take knowledge and commitment to create and sustain a healthy shift-worker relationship. There are few shortcuts but there are a few tricks. Being kind and thoughtful to the other is one, and not focussing on your own irritations is another. The most important thing is to remember the importance of your relationship and caring for it and each other. Neglect it and it will disintegrate.


1. Its even more important to have a regular Date Night – or Day. Ensure that you have regular quality time together which includes time for intimacy.

2. Have a regular Relationship Meeting, where you share commitments and timetables, dates and chores, and raise any problems or issues in a calm, reflective way.

3. Have shared experiences. Make sure that you have a shared interest or hobby, preferably something sporty and active.

4. Keep connected by calling or SMSing frequently. Make sure the other knows that you are thinking of them.

5. Be romantic. Flowers really do say it all without words, but so do other small caring and loving behaviours, such as leaving notes, making random unsolicited gestures and small kindnesses.

6. Verbalise your appreciation and love – while gestures are important it is vital to actually tell the other how much you appreciate them, and why.

7. Exploit the advantages of being a shift worker. You get extra time off and other benefits – make the best of them, and share every experience that you can.