Dating the One You Married
Working Different Shifts
Willard F. Harley, Jr.
Roseanne and Ted, the couple from the last article, both worked full-time – she as a nurse and he as a mechanic at a local automobile agency. She had found a job early in their marriage to fit his work schedule so that they could be together when they were with their children. They were strong believers in both parents raising their children together.
But their neighbors, Karen and Dan, made a different choice. To avoid spending for childcare, they had decided to work different shifts so that one of them could be with their children at all times.
They had known about Roseanne and Ted's frequent fights, and that their marriage had been headed for a divorce. So, when they saw the change that took place, from frowns to smiles, they wanted to know who had helped them save their marriage. While they were not yet contemplating a divorce, their marriage was definitely not working out as they had hoped it would be. So, upon their neighbors’ recommendation, they came to my office for advice.
I am a strong advocate for dual career couples to work the same hours. It helps them create within their bodies a daily sleep-wake cycle that enables them to enjoy life with each other. By being awake and asleep at the same time, lethargy isn’t much of a factor when it comes to meeting each other’s intimate emotional needs.
But there’s an even more important reason for working the same schedules: Alternate schedules make finding 15 hours for undivided attention essentially impossible. That became very apparent when I explained to Karen and Dan that I expected them to have 3 to 5 hour dates totaling 15 hours a week.
I’ve found that it takes at least that much time every week to fall in love when dating before marriage. But after marriage, couples think that their romantic love will be sustained even if they no longer spend that time together. They think they are soulmates, destined to be in love with each other for life. Sadly, most couple lose that feeling of love within a few years of marriage because they spend that time doing something else. Working different shifts was that “something else” for Karen and Dan.
Karen was a nurse who worked nights in a hospital maternity ward. She not only earned more by working the night shift, but because almost everyone was asleep, she had much less work to do than nurses who worked the day shift. She loved her job and the hours that she worked.
Dan was an electrician for a local construction company and his working hours were almost always during the day. Working nights was not an option for him. So, if they were to work the same hours, it made sense for Karen to work the day shift in the maternity ward.
She was not happy with that proposal. More work and less money was not what she had in mind. She knew that one of my Basic Concepts was the Policy of Joint Agreement (never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse), and this would be a clear violation if it were forced upon her.
But she could be enthusiastic about her shift change if it were to lead to something of great value to her: Romantic love. Although she was not sure if her sacrifice would lead to that outcome, she was enthusiastically willing to try it.
My plan for restoring romantic love in marriage can usually be followed on a provisional basis. It can be followed for six months to a year, and then the couple can decide if they prefer their new lifestyle to the one they had left behind. With the understanding that Karen could return to the night shift after a year if my plan did not help them create romantic love for each other, she enthusiastically agreed to work the day shift.
As it turned out, the cost of daycare for their children was much less than they had imagined. All three of their children were in school, so they only needed someone to watch their children for the few hours after school until they would both return home from work. And they were able to occasionally recruit their parents to watch over their children while they were out on their dates each week.
But before they could plan their first date, I had to be sure that they were qualified to date.
The Love Busters, demands, disrespect, and anger where addressed, and although they knew that they had crept into their marriage occasionally, they convinced me that they would be very careful to avoid them.
Did they know how to be affectionate, plan mutually enjoyable recreational activities with each other, talk intimately together, and make love? It had been quite a while since they had been proficient in meeting those emotional needs for each other, especially on a single date. But I certainly didn’t have to teach them how to do it the way I had taught Roseanne and Ted who had never learned those skills. They both felt that they knew how to do it if given the opportunity. They were ready to date.
With Karen now working the day shift, they created a 15 hour a week schedule of dating that was similar to those I’ve created for other couples: Tuesday and Thursday evening, 3 hours each, and Saturday and Sunday, 5 and 4 hours respectively.
They also scheduled 15 hours of quality family time each week where they were together as a family: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 3 hours each day.
A few weeks after adjusting to their new schedule, they were both amazed at what they had been missing. They not only rekindled their love for each other, but they also found that they were able to have a much greater influence on their children, even though they were taking time to date without being with them. The quality family time together more than compensated for time for undivided attention.
Karen didn’t need a year to decide that changing her work shift to match Dan’s shift was the right thing to do. She knew within a month that she had made the right choice. Granted it took a few weeks for her to adjust to sleeping at night instead of during the day, but after the adjustment was made, she and her whole family were much happier being on the same schedule.
Innocent lifestyle choices are often made that prevent couples from experiencing the best that marriage has to offer. Karen and Dan thought that working different shifts would not create problems for them in marriage, but they learned from personal experience that anything that gets in the way of their time for undivided attention would keep them from being in love with each other. Whatever it was that would separate them wouldn’t be worth having that loss.
They were grateful to their neighbors, Roseanne and Ted, for sharing their discovery that romantic love was something that any couple could experience – if they followed my advice to date each other at least 15 hours a week.
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