FIFO relationships - how to turn stress into success

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Alicia and I were chatting recently about various issues related to FIFO, and she said something very important that reminded me of her motivation to start this great website. She said: "It's not that people don't want to make FIFO work for them, it's just that they don't know how."

I wholeheartedly agree - and would even take it further to include relationships in general. It's not that people don't want their relationships to work - it's just that they often don't know how!

No one embarks on a marriage or partnership with the intention of failing. Relationships begin with optimism - we think we can conquer anything that comes our way. We think that if we love each other enough, we will have a great relationship and always be happy. It's often not until some months or even years later that we find ourselves feeling less enthusiastic about our partner and the relationship. Many people feel dissatisfied or disappointed with how things have turned out, and start complaining, criticising, nagging and arguing. Some withdraw from their partner, spending more and more time doing their own thing. Others feel insecure and anxious and try to get closer and closer to the other person, giving up their own hobbies or interests along the way. Some people blame themselves that things have gone wrong ("it's my insecurities that have pushed him away") and others blame their partner ("she's such a nag it's no wonder I don't want to help her"). People feel disappointed and dissatisfied.

My goodness, how depressing! Just writing all that makes me wonder why we even bother with relationships at all. Thankfully the story doesn't end here (with disappointment and dissatisfaction). Relationship counselling wouldn't exist if it did and self help and relationship books wouldn't be such great sellers. The fact is that we are not only social creatures needing love and connection. We are also intelligent, problem-solving creatures. We look for ways to make things work. We try the best we can to improve ourselves, our lives and our relationships. 

I see evidence of this all the time on the MiningFM forums and the questions sent in by readers. Question after question asks: "How can I make FIFO work?"; "How do other people make this work?"; "What can I do?"; "How do people cope with this?" Many of these questions come from people who have recently started working FIFO, or whose partner has been away and back a few times.

I suspect that most people begin a new job (FIFO or not) in the same way they set out in a new relationship: with optimism and enthusiasm and the idea that it will work out well. While I'm not so naive to think that everyone loves their work, I'd be surprised if anyone intentionally chose a job they knew would not suit them or their family. It seems to me that many people choose FIFO because other forms of employment haven't worked so well in one way or another, and they are looking for something better.

In my experience, people who've decided to try the FIFO lifestyle are often vaguely aware of potential issues ("It might be hard on the  kids" or "It'll be tough for a while, until we get used to it"). Often, though, they're not clear on what specific difficulties they or their family is likely to face, and how they can minimise them. Whether you are making the decision as a single person, or as part of a couple or family, it is vitally important to be clear on your reasons for choosing FIFO. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What has led to this decision?
  • What do I/we hope to get out of it?
  • What are the benefits I/we are looking for?
  • What goals am I/are we hoping to achieve by doing this? (and how will I/we know when I/we have reached them?)
  • What is important for me in my life and how do I want to live my life? Does this lifestyle fit in with that?

It's also important to ask yourself some questions about possible problems that might arise for you, your partner and/or your kids. I'm not talking here about the 'usual issues' of FIFO such as household rules, routines and the like, all of which are discussed regularly on MiningFM forums and elsewhere on this site. I'm talking about you and your family in particular. Every individual and family is unique and all have their share of issues and problems. These should be considered when deciding whether or not FIFO is likely to work for you and your family.

Have a think about:

  • support systems. What is available? What are you willing to make use of?
  • the age and particular needs of your children
  • whether or not there are poorly managed health, mental health or drug and alcohol issues in your immediate or wider family
  • your partner's work commitments and goals
  • whether or not you or your partner have a history of loss, difficult separations, or broken trust.

None of these issues necessarily mean that FIFO won't work. But in my opinion, any one of them could definitely make things harder or more complicated if not considered and actively managed.

In an ideal world, all of the above points will have been thought through and discussed at length before the decision to try FIFO is made. Of course this is often not the case and many of the questions I get are from people who have embarked on the FIFO lifestyle and found it more difficult than they anticipated. If you or your partner has recently started FIFO and it's harder than you thought, take some time to think through all of the questions above, starting with the reasons you have decided to try the FIFO lifestyle for yourself or your family. If the reasons are still sound and make a lot of sense to you (and your partner if you have one) then move on to the second lot of dot points above. If there are concerns in any of the areas, see if you can work together to come up with some solutions. For example, you might really want to make FIFO work, but have a history of difficult separations that lead to feelings of overwhelming anxiety and sadness when your partner is away.

Looking at your past history and deciding to learn new skills to manage your emotions will benefit yourself and your family. Professional counselling would help you to learn these skills. Choosing to ignore this advice does not mean that you can't do FIFO, or be with a FIFO partner, but is does mean that the anxiety and sadness is likely to continue. Obviously, if you continue to suffer it is worth having another look at the reasons why you chose FIFO - and reassess. To give an example, a politician with a tendency to withdraw and become depressed when he is criticised is not likely to do to well or enjoy his chosen career. Realising this fact, he has a choice. He can either learn new skills so he is less likely to take criticism personally, or he can choose another career where criticism is not part of the job.

As Alicia has said many times, the FIFO lifestyle can offer great benefits (both financial and personal). Making the lifestyle work for your and your relationship requires commitment with a capital C, both to each other and to the lifestyle. It's vital, then, that you explore the reasons behind your decision and also discuss any personal factors that might get in the way of success. Good luck!


To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.


Angie Willcocks is a registered psychologist with a private practice in Adelaide – for details about Skype consultations please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She’s an expert in tackling issues such as depression, anxiety, postnatal depression, child sleep routines and relationship difficulties. She has a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Psychology and a Masters of Counselling Psychology. She is also the co-author of The Sensible Sleep Solution: a guide to sleep in your baby’s first year, which can be ordered from her website www.angiewillcocks.com.