Q: How do I manage conflicting work schedules in my relationship?

A: The downturn in the economy has hit more than the bank book, it's put new stresses in your intimate relationship.  Yes, you are grateful that you have jobs at all, but now you must struggle with all the problems of living like "ships passing in the night" because of your work hours.  Nurses are working the graveyard shift, truckers and emergency room professionals are gone for days at a time, wait staff work weekends, and returning students have erratic schedules. 

How can couples manage closeness when there is hardly time to say hello?  My clients struggle the most with finding time to discuss parenting, address spending priorities, manage emergencies, make social plans, and include intimacy.  I don't have a pat formula for every couple, but here is a guide that can serve as a springboard so you can customize your solutions.

1. Review your schedule weekly or daily if needed.  It only takes a few minutes to glance at your schedules and inform your partner and family about how the next few days or weeks are shaping up.  Sit down with a schedule or sync your calendars.  If you have children, appoint the most responsible and capable child as the Schedule Captain whose duties are to tell others.  Some of my couples have a big calendar on the wall so that everyone in the family can see what's what and who's where.  Informing everyone ahead of time provides a sense of control and minimizes the bad behavior that stems from uncertainty.

2. Explain to all your loved ones about the difficulties, and reassure them that you care and love them.  Knowing that you are going through tough times as a team soothes the anxiety and brings people closer together.  Use this talk to address issues such as not being able to attend many social or educational events.  Be sure to express your regret and your love. 

3. Establish a Contact List.  Make sure partners, in-laws, and capable and responsible children know whom to call in an emergency-including over-flowing toilets and drained car batteries.  Take the time now to inform everyone so that you aren't blindsided by an emergency phone call for a situation that could have been addressed without you.

4. Stay in love with your partner and family.  Leave love notes or send text messages or even flowers to your partner.  Text, email or even send a hand-written note to children to congratulate them for a job well done.  Extended periods of "being out of sync" with each other can erode the feeling of specialness. Keep a current Appreciation List and check it at least once a week.  Be sure to kiss and hug each time you are together.

5. Keep your love spats out of your work hours.  Examine your work schedules and see where your free time overlaps-even if, for now, it's three in the morning.  Send each other a care note during work hours that say something short and sweet such as "We'll handle it." Or, "I'm sorry."  But don't send messages to express your anger. 

6. Arrange time to be private and intimate.  Intimacy can include sex or just cuddling.  The goal is to maintain private and caring time alone.  Even taking a brief nap close together can stoke your love fires.

7. Inform your partner about your Frustration Meter.  I like using a scale of 1-10 to express your frustration.  Rather than struggle for the exact word, say something like, "I have had it up to here about a 7." Venting your dissatisfaction is helpful, but don't just gripe.  Use your Frustration Meter to problem-solve or make longer term changes. 

8. Don't blame yourself or your partner.  Finally, holding onto anger for your current life is not helpful.  Get proactive-and kind to yourself and your partner.

LeslieBeth Wish, ED.D., MSS is a noted psychologist and lic. clinical social worker, specializing in relationships.  For her book about women and love, she welcomes women to take her 17-20 minute online research survey at www.lovevictory.com.