Monday 2 April 2012


"Who wants to be married to a shift worker?"

Doing this job can be tough. The long shifts, the ever changing shift pattern and the stressful nature of what we do and often see can take its toll. Most front line staff at one time or another will have suffered some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, be it intrusive thoughts, flash backs and harrowing sights in their dreams. We all have coping mechanisms to deal with it but a lot of the effects spill over into our personal lives and can have a damaging effect on personal relationships. The fact that the 'relief' rota is known as the divorce rota speaks volumes. I can testify to it! My marriage suffered as a result, to the point where it was beyond repair. I was always tired, moody, didn't feel like talking about what was troubling me and generally became crap company. I pushed away the person I was closest to, the person who had supported my career change and for what?! There is a general feeling that if you don't do the job, you don't understand. You spend so long at work and form close relationships with people that they become the ones you confide in; that in itself can cause a strain. Add to that the fact that your colleagues are the only people off work when you are & you end up socialising with them too. It is therefore no surprise that it is a very incestual service. A large percentage of people are married to or partners with someone else in the job. Let's be honest, with a 7/10 weekend rota your chances of meeting someone outside of work is seriously limited. Obviously, there is no fuel without fire, my marriage break-up cannot be souly blamed on my work, but if I hadn't changed careers I do often wonder, what if?

As tough as it is on the ones doing to the long hours and varied shifts it is equally hard, if not harder, for the spouses who suffer the company of a miserable shift worker. It's a perspective that I can't give, as I haven't been on the receiving end of it, but it's a perspective I think is well worth hearing. Every argument has two sides, every divorce has two people hurting, so I thought it would be worth hearing it from the other side. Seeing what it's like to have someone who has a normal job and then dons the green and changes. Someone who saw their marriage fail, in no small part to being married to a shift worker. It is with great pleasure that I introduce Michelle, a friend who suffered the effects of the 'relief rota' from the other side of the fence: 

'My name is Michelle, and I was a shift widow.'

"I wonder if there is a support group for the shift widow? If there is, I never found it. He wasn't a paramedic when we got married, in fact he became one after I saw an advert in the Metro on my daily commute. He applied, he got in. I was happy for him, he’d been looking for a decent career for years. Would I still have shown him that advert if I'd known what would come next? Possibly not...

To give you an understanding of our situation, you should know that we have a small child and that I have a full time (9-5 office) job. So as well as navigating the shifts, we had to deal with childcare, my occasional evening and weekend work and sporadic train- related lateness as well as the odd attempt to see each other/have a life.

I'm not going to lie, living with a shift worker was a nightmare. Especially a disorganised one. Let's just say he wasn't exactly reliable when it came to sharing his shift pattern and the infamous 'Relief rota' seemed to be completely random. So I spent half the time not knowing when he was working. Cue lots of confusion over who was supposed to pick up our child. Or my mum letting herself into our house at random when he was in bed after a night shift and him going nuts at me about it (there's a whole other post on interfering mothers there... Maybe another time).

The side effect of a lack of information meant that I basically turned into a massive nag. Whenever we were both at home, all I did was to badger him for his rota so that I could sort out childcare and moan at him for never being around. He would snap at me, I got no information and on numerous occasions I couldn't attend work events or social gatherings. On top of that, apparently the housework was all my responsibility. Even though he seemed to sit around doing nothing and making a mess on his days off, my evenings and weekends comprised of looking after our child, cooking, cleaning and sleeping. I lost me and I lost my social life. It didn't take long for me to begin to resent it. And it wasn't much later that he started spending all his non-working time with his new paramedic mates, who I hated (despite never having met them) because as far as I was concerned they were the reason he wasn't spending any time with his family. Especially when I found out he’d told me he was working when he was actually out with them... Probably to avoid the inevitable fight if I found out.

It was less than a year after he started the job that he left. There were other things going on at the time that contributed to the split, but if I had to list the top three reasons for the end of our marriage, the job would be right up there. At the time, I didn’t see it as being the job and blamed him - which on reflection was unfair. But I didn’t understand the pressures of his job... and he didn’t have any idea of the impact of it on me either."

I think it's fair to say that there will always be two very contrasting opinions and versions of events. I think the point that there is a lack of understanding between the impact on each others lives is very poignant. So much can and could have been fixed with communication. It's all too easy to run away from the root of the problem and find alternatives to facing up to what is essentially staring you right in the face. Sacrifices are made for this job and there are times those sacrifices seem worthwhile. But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that we are not the only ones making that sacrifice.


  1. My OH & I met on the job, and worked opposite shifts for years (earlies/lates, lates/nights, nights/earlies). He left, I didn't and it's been that way for >10 years. Yes, it prob helps that he knows the job, and it also helps that we no longer juggle shifts, but your guest is right - communication is key and so is balance between work and home. I know he sometimes misses the job and this can cause friction, but we manage. At the end of the day, I think if it's going to work then it will, but you have to be honest with each other, and you have to work hard to understand each other, even when you don't, and can't agree.

  2. Who wants to be married to a shift worker? Not me anymore. I've been married to a public service shift worker for 11 years now, we have 3 children & it's a nightmare. In the last 4 weeks I've been alone for 14 evenings & in 4 days he starts another set of 7 nights. That doesn't include the nights alone because he's passed out from tiredness, that's just his working evenings. I can feel myself withdrawing for him to preserve myself. I'm tired of looking after things alone, taking kids out on my own, spending weekends alone, attending functions alone. I have no social life, everything revolves around his working hours because if they don't, we literally wouldn't get time together as a family never mind as a couple. For 3 years he went onto mon -fri 9-5 hours & it changed our lives., we had routine, a social life, I didn't have to check the calendar to see what he was doing, I could just say yes. Unfortunately we've been back onto shifts for the past 2 years & while it's manageable, it gives the minimum amount of recovery time so if you miss any time off / annual leave, things immediately deteriorate. That's where I'm at. In every 35 days, we get 4 days as a family. We might be lucky though & if the night shift ends at the start of a school holiday we get 4 days in one week. That doesn't happen for us this year though & as colleagues who also have children have booked half terms & Christmas off, we have to wait 8 months for more than 3 days off together. Is there any wonder that I'm starting to wonder if it's worth it?

    1. It sucks doesn't it. The only thing I will say, is that I lost my marriage because of it. Obviously there were other factors at play but the shifts killed it off. In hindsight I wish I'd struggled through it because I'm worse off divorced! Wish we'd worked things through. I'd say it is worth it. Hope you find a way through x

  3. Late to the party - but:
    My father was a shift worker some 40-odd years ago and it really didn't seem to be a problem.
    More up-to-date, my husband WASN'T a shift-worker when the children were young and I still had everything to deal with myself. I could have written your description boiliem. Why? Because he was a research scientist in a group where the boss believed he owned them body and soul. He should leave me or he'd never be a successful scientist (the guy now suffers from Alzheimers). He didn't leave until it suited us and he did become a very successful medical scientist. Then he worked in the NHS all day and at the computer on his research most evenings.
    Your expectations have to change and it is b&**£% hard work yes - but it can be got through. The primary difference is probably that I worked from home as a self-employed translator - but that still means you have all the house-related work to get through as it isn't seen by others. And you are taxi service etc etc. It isn't any different in many respects.

    Both my daughters work shifts in the NHS. It isn't that that poses the problem - my hopefully-soon-to-be-ex SIL would still be an idiot and unsupportive. He always has been.

  4. Myself and my husband have both worked shifts all our relationship,myself in police control room and he works shifts mon-fri. Where as I work majarity of public holidays and weekends. This causes issues as i always feel harden done by(although not his fault), In five years we have had one christmas together, wanting to move forwards and have kids i have ended up getting a job off shifts as we will either never see each other or have any money due to child care. I knew it would have to happen one day and i am relived the end is near by, I know how hard it is, you fight about nothing because you are knackered, small things get blown out of propotion you have no routine and when he is off and i am at work i get annoyed with him if the house isnt as clean as i left it in.

    I can honestly say i take my hat off to couples/families with kids who make it work with one or both being on shifts, i know for us as a couple with both on shifts it wont work, where has with his shifts they are easier no weekends or bank hoildays,

    We talk alot even when we are fighting, being brutal honestly and at times a selfish wife (I want time with him not him and his mates) we sort date nights and keep them its not perfect but we make the best of it:)
    Comms OP

  5. I often would get confused about who had my son when, and who was picking him up, and was he at an in laws or nursery, or the child minders. This meant I often disturbed my partner in the middle of meetings, panicy phone calls "where is the boy? I've no idea where I'm going!"

    Also the mum walking in.... My mother in law was forever doing it!


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