Q&A with Jane Dodding: FIFO partner wants me to be fully available, and won't share parenting duties. Is this normal?

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By psychologist Jane Dodding

Q: My husband has been FIFO for a number of years now. Our last conversation he told me that I need to be fully available to him when he is home, and that he should not have to have any responsibility for housework or the kids. His says he works hard when he is away, and I don't. Yet I do work, and manage everything when he is away. Is this normal behaviour for FIFO workers? The thought of him getting home is quite depressing. What can I do?

A: Hi and thanks for getting in touch. I’m sorry to hear you are having problems in your relationship right now and are not looking forward to your husband coming home. Given what you have described, it is quite understandable that you are feeling less than enthusiastic about his return. It is reassuring though that you are able to stand back and observe his behaviour, are questioning it, and seeking to check with others whether it is normal and therefore okay.

I gather his behaviour and demands are new and different from recent years, although this is not absolutely clear? If it has changed, I am curious about why it has changed. Is he okay? What is happening for him? How is work: any changes or problems? How is he feeling, sleeping, and how is his appetite? Any other behaviours changed?

You might want to talk to him with the intent of trying to truly understand his perspective, what else might be fueling his demands and changes in his behaviour. The idea is to just listen, ask questions and try not to take anything too personally. You can then ask him to give you the same courtesy so he can understand your perspective and what is happening for you. With the limited information I have it is difficult to provide you with much clearer direction so I suggest you might like to also talk to your GP or a counsellor about the issue in more detail.

Regardless of the reason for your husband’s behaviour, it is important that you have support at the moment as it is clearly and understandably having an impact on your emotional wellbeing. Again talk to your GP, a counsellor, or Relationships Australia.

Mining Family Matters creator Alicia Ranford also has some personal advice, writing from her own experience as a FIFO wife: "From my experience at least, your husband’s behaviour is not normal for FIFO workers. While wives and partners often do make concessions to adapt around their FIFO partner’s rosters (so they have more free time available during R&R) this is not generally regimented or demanded by one particular partner. Any concessions are generally mutually considered as reasonable and appropriate to fit in around work, kids and the daily demands of life."

I support this, that generally in relationships (not only FIFO), couples negotiate the sharing of tasks and work out what is fair and reasonable to both of them.

To give you another perspective, in contrast to your husband’s request, I personally know of a couple who work hard to support each other. When the husband returns from FIFO work, he fits into the family routine and helps with housework and other chores. He also takes on a considerable amount of the responsibilities associated with the kids to give her a break, acknowledging she has the full responsibility whilst he is at away work. He also does this to be more involved with the kids when he can to strengthen and maintain his relationship with them which is aligned with his values as a father. Once a year, when he is home, she goes away on holiday for a week with friends and/or family and he stays home with the kids, so she has time off to relax and have a break from home life demands.

As you can see, one size doesn’t fit all. It really is about what works for each couple and family.

Take good care and all the best.


To read other columns written by our psychologists, 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.

Jane Dodding is a psychologist and director with MindsPlus, a group of psychologists and other mental health workers who came together in 2007 to provide support to people living and working in rural and remote regions of Australia. For further information about MindsPlus, contact 1300 312 202 or visit www.mindsplus.com.au