Q&A: I think my FIFO partner is happier when he's not with me
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: Hello. My long-term partner and father of my children has been working in FIFO for a few years and I have reached the point where my emotional state is at breaking point most days. I work full time so I am very busy during the week with work and our children. My partner calls us every night on the phone while he is away. I so look forward to his call every night, even though at times I don't have a lot to say. It's more the fact that I don't feel forgotten about while he is away, as sometimes I feel I am out of sight out of mind. When he comes home I find it very difficult as I don't feel I can reconnect with him. He spends his days doing whatever he wants to do before picking us up from school and work. I don't begrudge him his R&R but I feel like his life continues to go on without me. That when he comes home he doesn't want to spend his days with me (happy that I am at work and out of his hair). I have spoken to him about my feelings so, so many times and he says that he loves me and he does not want me to leave but I am feeling different from his actions. I am now questioning that there is someone else in his life. He would never ever admit this as he would never want his family to think he had strayed - never wanting to be seen as 'the bad person'. So he continually tells me there is no-one else and I need to stop being so paranoid. So my question is how do I stop my mind from thinking this way and how can I connect with him when we spend so little time together? I read about other families but they all seem to be the stay at home mum/wife so they get so much more time together when their husbands come home. I love my partner so much but the emotional pain is becoming too much. Thank you.
Hi and I’m sorry to hear that things have been so tough for you recently.
It seems to me like there are three related but separate issues in your email. Firstly, the issue of balance and how time is spent; secondly, whether or not your partner is committed to you and wants to spend time with you; and thirdly, your thoughts about the relationship.
Firstly, working full time when your partner works away is difficult, and that’s true for all couples I’ve spoken with (with or without children). Working full time means that your life just goes on as usual whether or not your partner is away or home, and that’s hard to take. When working with couples who are having trouble with this balance, I usually focus on revisiting (or rewriting) their shared and individual goals. Who is doing what at this point in time and why? Reassessing where you are headed as individuals and as a team can help make sense of the decisions you have both made about work and family and bring some meaning back to your 'groundhog days'.
It’s worth bearing in mind that even couples who don’t work FIFO struggle with this one too. Remember that couples who both work full time also don’t see a lot of each other, and struggle to fit in together time. This isn’t to minimise your difficulties – it’s just to say that it is a pretty normal part of the life phase that you’re in at the moment. Consider sitting down together and evaluating what you’re heading towards and, if possible, setting some shared future goals so that you both feel like you’re working together for something.
On the second issue, I’m sorry to hear that you feel like your partner is enjoying time away from you and I can’t help but wonder what has given you that idea that he’s happier when you’re “out of his hair”. The impression that you give is that your partner is not fully committed to you and the relationship, and perhaps even that he is seeing someone else. I’m not clear from your email about why you think this might be the case. Has he given you some reason to worry about this? Is there a history of infidelity in your relationship?
If you’re genuinely not sure about this, and can’t make sense of whether or not there really is likely to be an issue with fidelity, please consider going along and talking this through with someone who will be able to be a non-judgmental sounding board for your worries.
This leads to the third issue: your thoughts about the relationship. You say your partner doesn’t like spending time with you and is happier away from you, but I don’t know if these are based on the truth or not. What to do with those thoughts really does depend on whether they are based on reality or not. ‘Reality checking’ of thoughts is a common exercise that psychologists do with their clients and it involves talking through whether or not a certain thought (for example “my husband is happier when I am out of his hair”) is true or not. This might involve asking him but would also involve looking at other information (like whether or not he prioritises spending time with you).
Even if your thoughts did turn out to be true, it’s not the end of the world. You just then need to shift to problem-solving mode. This involves accepting the truth of the matter and looking at what can be done. So, for example, if it is true that your husband isn’t enjoying spending time with you at the moment, work together to look at how time together might be more fun. Not enjoying time in each other’s company isn’t the end of the world, and certainly needn’t be the end of the marriage if you work together to address it sooner rather than later. Have a look at my previous column that addresses this issue.
It’s also worth noting that thoughts like “my husband is happier away from me” can become self fulfilling. This means the thought becomes more true over time because you unintentionally make it so. In this example, you might spend so much time asking your partner why he’s not having fun with you that he ends up not having fun with you (because of all the asking about fun). I’m not suggesting this is what you are doing, but I am suggesting that you try to reality check some of your current thoughts about your partner and the relationship before they become self fulfilling.
It’s possible that you and your partner would also benefit from some relationship counselling to clarify and work through the issues you’re currently facing. You could also try one or two of these tips and make sure you print off a copy for your partner too.
I hope this helps, and all the very best.
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.