Q&A: how to stop jealousy over FIFO partner and his mates

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Q: My partner works away 2/1, and I have had problems accepting him spending time with his friends when he gets home. I know that he misses out while he is away, but I feel left out and jealous because I havent seen him for the previous two weeks either. I know it is more my problem than his, but I dont know how to stop. Thanks in advance :)

A: Thanks for your email. This is such a common issue! I have had previous questions about this very topic and how 'home' time is spent has been identified in studies as one of the major sources of conflict in couples where one person has a FIFO roster. It's a tough one, and (sorry!) there are no easy answers but I hope that this might help a bit.

There are two issues that you seem to have identified here: one is how your partner spends his time when he is back and the other is your feelings about it.

On the first issue, it sounds like you do understand that your partner simply can't see his friends or family (or you of course) when he is away. He has no choice but to see everyone he wants to in the time that he is home. The flip side of this is the life of the partner at home. She (sorry to generalise but it most often is a she...) often tries to see all her friends and family when her partner is away at work, as well as perhaps read books, see movies, work extra shifts and do any study she needs to ... partly to keep herself busy but also so that she can be as free as possible to spend time with her partner when he comes home. As you can see this equation just doesn't work and this is why this particular issue is a major cause of stress for couples living the FIFO lifestyle.

Here are some tips: talking about 'The Problem' together as an symptom of the lifestyle, rather than as a relationship problem can help. Seeing it as a problem outside of the relationship can help you two tackle it together as a team rather than thinking that there is 'something wrong' with your relationship or either one of you. Statements like "what can WE do about this problem of how time is spent?" are good. Practical suggestions that can work for some couples are: agreeing on a set number of nights that will be spent together; socialising together; the 'away' partner keeping in regular contact with friends and family (not just his partner) via phone or the internet when away (I know this isn't always possible).

I think it's important for the 'home' partner to also make plans to see her own friends and family when her partner is home - this can ease the pressure on both of you. Another suggestion that it is bit more in-depth is to gain an understanding of both yours and your partner's priorities in life so you might better understand the choices you both make about how you spend your time. I have an exercise I use with clients who want to have a look at their priorities in life and see if the way they're spending their time reflects these. Here's a link to a recent column I wrote on that.

Now onto the second topic: your feelings. You say in your email that you most typically feel jealous, and that you "don't know how to stop". I'm not surprised about that because we can't really 'stop' our feelings, they just come and go all day long like waves on the ocean. What we can do though, is work on changing our thoughts and actions and these, over time, can result in different feelings. Here's an example: let's say your partner says that he wants to go to his mate's house. Before you feel anything you will think and your thoughts might be something like "here we go again"; "he never spends enough time with me"; "maybe he likes his friends more than me"; "he has more fun with them than me" etc. etc. etc. and THEN you will feel jealousy. If you closely examine your thinking about the situation, you will more clearly see how you end up feeling jealous, and perhaps (if you decide that the thoughts are silly or not true) you might decide to change them. By doing that, you might notice that the feelings are lessened, or even that an entirely different feeling comes up. The key point here is to start to notice your thinking patterns rather than focussing your energy on your feelings.

This is tricky if you've never tried to do it before. If you want help, you can try a CD on mindfulness skills to help you. I'd recommend Mindfulness Skills Vol 1, available from www.actmindfully.com.au

I hope this helps, please come back to me if this info is not relevant for you and your partner, or if you would like more advice.Good luck!


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