Q&A: My partner has just started FIFO and I'm lost

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Q: My husband just flew out a few days ago for his first FIFO job. He works an 8/6 roster. We don't have kids, just a puppy who is in confinement for the next 10 weeks as he is recovering from surgery. I don't drive so I can't work now that my husband is away. Plus I am not allowed to leave the dog alone while he is confined. I am a uni student by correspondence. So I do have things to keep me busy while I am home. But ever since he left I haven't stopped crying. I have this awful empty feeling in my chest and my stomach. I've lost my appetite which usually I eat more when I am emotional. I can't focus on anything. I try to do my work or watch a show or do some laundry and I can't focus on any of it. I can barely convince myself to get up. I only get up because I have to look after the puppy. If it wasn't for him I would probably sleep the whole time until my husband came home. The whole reason he took the job was financial pressure. And since I had to quit my job it winds up that we make the same money if he had just stayed home. He wasn't even that keen for the job because he is having a hard time, too, being away. He at least has his work to keep him busy every day. I just feel like I am losing it, I'm lost. I just want him to come home. So many people have given me advice about things to do but nothing helps. And the hollowness just won't go away. How do people do this? I am really sorry to hear that things have been so hard for you. I have to be honest and say that the first thing that comes to mind when I read your letter is that the FIFO lifestyle is not for everyone. For some people the lifestyle doesn't work well at one time, but might be OK at another time later in their life or relationship.

A: There is always a period of adjustment for couples when one starts FIFO for work. During this time (perhaps for the first few weeks) both partners might experience feelings of sadness and loss and confusion. These feelings usually settle down as each gets into their own routine and as they establish ways to stay connected.

It's possible that things will get easier for you as your partner goes away and comes back a few times, but I am concerned that what you are experiencing is more severe and debilitating than what most people I speak to experience.

Lots of questions come up as I read your letter, some of them are:

  • Is this the first time you have felt this way?
  • Do you usually find separations difficult or is this an unusual reaction for you?
  • Do you have a history of depression?
  • Did anything else happen or change around the same time as your husband starting FIFO?

I am concerned that you may be depressed. Please see my column on depression for symptoms - if you meet the criteria, it's important that you make a time to have a chat with your GP so that you can get some support. It's possible that your husband going away for work has been a trigger for depression for you,  and this would particularly be likely if you have a history of difficult or upsetting separations from people you love (parental divorce, death in the family etc.) There are lots of reasons why you might be having such a hard time with your husband being away and obviously I can't know what they from your letter. You might have some ideas about this. The question for you and your husband is whether FIFO is in your best interests at this particular time. If you both decide to continue with FIFO, I think that it will be very important for you to have some counselling and support to help you learn some strategies to cope better when your husband  is away.

I understand that the decision on whether to continue with the FIFO lifestyle might be a tricky one for you and your husband, particularly as you have financial pressures. It might be worthwhile having a chat to your GP, a friend who knows you well and/or a counsellor or psychologist to help you make some sense of it all and perhaps gain some clues as to whether or not you are likely to adjust to the lifestyle over time.

You might also like to visit beyondblue for more information on depression. And take a look at another recent column on taking control when depression strikes.

I hope that this has been useful. Please do contact me if I can provide you with any more information. Angie


More expert advice from Angie:

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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.