Making a relationship work when you and your partner are on different schedules can be difficult, frustrating and downright painful. I know this from experience. Until recently, my girlfriend and I were in what you could call a drive-by relationship — we saw each other only in passing, with me working during the week and her tending to a second job on the weekends.
The time we did spend together, there was always a feeling of pressure, as though things needed to be perfect in order to be worth it. This is something Allen Wagner, a relationship and family therapist, tells me is common in relationships where two people are on different schedules. Fortunately, things worked out, since, as Wagner points out, we were aware the situation was temporary and that soon enough our schedules would align. “The assumption that you’ll work your way to a point where your schedules can match is important,” says Wagner. “It allows both of you to hold on to the real hope that you’re not going to live like this forever.”
But while we were lucky, that’s not always the case — some couples can spend years with mismatching schedules. If that’s your situation, should you abandon all hope?
Not necessarily. As per this Lifehacker piece, there are several things you can do to adapt, such as using small gestures (like leaving hand written notes) to show the other person you care, or perhaps recalibrating your sleeping area. “If concessions aren’t working, consider separate beds or a separate workspace. If you like to stay up late or get up early to work, look for a co-op workspace in your area that suits your hours,” reports Lifehacker.
Yet while sleeping in separate beds is something more and more couples are considering, it’s not exactly romantic. It’s also not a useful suggestion if you and your partner aren’t living together yet. So what else can you do?
“Make the time you do spend together memorable,” says Wagner. “Plan something like a hike or something that you’ll both be able to hold onto and remember when you’re away from each other.” Wagner believes that it’s the lack of such memorable shared moments that can make a mismatching schedule relationship harder to maintain than a long-distance relationship. “Just because you’re both tired, that doesn’t mean you should sit on the couch and watch something on Netflix if you only have a few hours together,” he warns. “That’s not quality time.”
Wagner also cites a general lack of availability with regard to social interactions as another pressure point amongst such couples. “When you see your friends doing things, or inviting you to places that you’re not sure you can commit to because you’re not sure if your partner’s schedule will allow for it, that can be difficult,” says Wagner. “If you end up not going because your partner can’t go with you, you’re going to feel resentful.”
To that end, says a Hello Giggles article on the topic, you should try to be more independent to avoid such feelings of resentment — or at least learn to feel less awkward about being a third wheel. “I’ve become extremely independent, as I’ve confronted the reality that my relationship isn’t on your average 9-to-5,” writes Michelle Bird. “I’m lucky to have a close group of friends that don’t mind if I tag along and be a third (or even fifth) wheel on our weekend adventures and getaways.”
Still, even if you and your partner are on completely different schedules, you’ll both inevitably have to make some sacrifices. “Even if it affects your professional life, it’s important to schedule days that you can both take off together,” says Wagner. “Do something memorable and show that you’re willing to put in the effort.”
So if you’re currently in a relationship where the only time you see your significant other is when they’re sleeping or running out the door, again, try to make those moments as indelible as you can.