Q&A: helping your partner cope on a different roster

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: Hi. My partner has been a FIFO worker for a number of years. Her roster has just changed and she's now away longer than before, although home for about the same time. She has just come home from her first stint away on the new roster and is struggling to cope with being home. She is a creature of habit and obviously has her routine at work and has now come home to no routine. She was extremely upset last night and feeling lost because she doesn't know where she fits and she feels like she doesn't belong at home. This was despite me making a little welcome home package for her which included her favourite things that she would want to eat and drink on her first day home. How can I help her cope with being home? How can she help herself? Is it just a matter of sucking it up and getting used to the new roster? My concern is that her drinking will increase. We have a great relationship and have no other issues that would impact her feeling like she doesn't belong at home.

A: Thanks for your email. It sounds like you did a wonderful job at trying to make your partner’s transition home as nice as possible. It’s not uncommon for FIFO workers to take some time to adjust to a new roster, so it’s possible that this issue will improve over the next couple of swings.

The change from work to home and home to work is definitely the time that most FIFO workers find hardest, so your partner is not alone in this.

How did your partner cope with being at home on her previous roster? I’m just wondering why she now feels like she doesn’t have a role at home, since FIFO isn’t new to her. What ‘role’ did she have at home when she worked on the old roster, and can she adapt this to the shorter time at home?

You could both have a look at my previous ‘black day’ column. It’s actually about going back to work, but some FIFO workers experience similar feelings about coming home (even though they want to come home).

The key is for your partner to identify what she’s thinking about that gets her so upset, and to really look at what the feeling is – is it sadness, stress or anxiety? Identifying thoughts and feelings can help clarify what the problem is, and then she can shift to some problem solving.

Sometimes people who struggle with the transition home find that they feel quite ‘wired’ from being switched on at work, and the down feeling is actually related to difficulties with relaxing. This can indicate high levels of work stress that are not being managed well.

Drinking too much can be related to feeling stressed because alcohol can help people feel relaxed, they rely on it at the expense of developing other stress relieving strategies. I think that your partner would benefit from having a look at some stress management techniques. Beyond Blue is a good place to start for more information on stress and how to manage it.

On a final note, it’s lovely of you to want to try to help your partner, but it’s not really up to you to make it all better. Unfortunately, no one can do someone else’s psychological work for them. By all means ask your partner what you can do to help, and if possible do that.

It’s important to actually ask her what you can do, because people vary so much in this. Some people prefer to throw themselves straight into being busy and socialising to help distract them from the difficulties with the transition, while others prefer to lay very low for the first 24 hours they’re home.

I wish you and your partner all the best, and I hope that you both find some of what I have said helpful.


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.