Don't be afraid of tough conversations - your relationship will be better for it

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Deb Russo is a FIFO wife of the offshore kind. Her husband works on oil rigs and vessels. Typically, he does a four-week-on and four-week-off roster. They've lived their entire 14-year relationship like this. Initially Deb's husband was in the Navy, then he shifted to work in the mines and did the 28/7 roster (Deb's least favourite!) With this offshore roster, though, she wouldn’t change a thing.

"I don’t believe the conversation was as simple as that," I told him.

"That’s just how it was," he said, wanting to turn back to his computer and download something that was evidently more important than our conversation.

I stood there between his knees, contemplating what to do. He was relaxed. He always is when he's surfing the Net like this.

So should I leave it? Or should I tell him how I was feeling, because this was important to me? 

'Talk to him,' is what my head said.

Hesitating a little, I asked: "Can I talk to you about it some more?" 

He turned back to me, after hitting the enter key for something I would most likely be watching later.

"Yup, what's up?"

He touched the back of my knees as I stood between his, and so I started choosing my words oh-so-carefully, so not to seem as though I was attacking him or the person in question. I touched his face and began... 

I can't tell you the ins and outs of the conversation, but I can tell you about the result.

He listened. I felt better that the matter was out in the open. And while this issue will forever be ongoing, to a degree it was dealt with today.

Relationships take hard work, no matter who they are with. Conversations are key, and sometimes they can be great and sometimes they are no so good.

With the hard conversations you have two choices: stew on whatever is bothering you (such as this FIFO life ... their drinking ... even their choice in sleeping attire) or you can bring it out into the open. We all know what can happen when we decide the conversation is too hard – resentment starts to rear its head and creates a dirty great big canyon that takes a long time to fill back in. 

So here's my advice for getting that tough conversations started...

  • Approach them when they are relaxed. With my husband, good options (depending on the situation) include surfing the Net or working in the shed. Stand or sit beside them. Standing straight on is too confrontational. I read somewhere that walking is even more ideal. 
  • Don’t try to talk about things straight after an argument. Leave it for a few hours or a day so emotions are eased and you don't have a brick wall in front of you.
  • Don’t say "we need to talk". It’s another recipe for a brick wall.
  • Choose your tone. Most arguments start because the tone is all wrong. I will shut down a conversation the minute his or my tone changes because, without fail, it affects our ability to listen. 
  • Choose your words carefully. Avoid attacking words. Place yourself in their shoes.
  • Touch them carefully and gently, but always ask first. Watch their body language: if they feel uncomfortable, shift yourself out of their space. 
  • Don’t be the one who does all the talking. Ask them what they think. Listen and try not to interrupt. 
  • When you have finished and reached a resolution you can both live with, make a positive statement. ("I am so glad we were able to work this out as a team.")

Best of luck Deb. 

More columns from Oil & Gas Mum, Deb Russo:

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And here's another oil and gas couple's advice on making FIFO family life work when you're working offshore