Q&A: After 12 months I'm finding FIFO really tough
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: Hello, I have been with my boyfriend for a number of years. He has been a FIFO miner for the past 12 months and rather than finding it easier to cope over time, I am finding it increasingly difficult to handle the instability that comes with the mining lifestyle. It's hard having him coming and going all the time and I am starting to resent the fact that he finds it easier to cope with than I do. He comes from a defence force family so is used to separations, travel and change whereas I grew up in a very close-knit, stable family and did not move around or endure family separations during my childhood. I think our different backgrounds are influencing how we react to the mining lifestyle. I love my boyfriend but I am so sick of feeling resentful, snappy and annoyed all the time. Do you have any tips or strategies for coping with the challenges of the mining lifestyle (i.e. the separation, disruption and instability?) I really want to let go of my negative attitude and feel positive and optimistic like I did when he first started in the mines.
A: Thanks for your email. It's always so interesting to hear different people's experiences with FIFO so thanks for sharing yours. It sounds like your positivity and optimism carried you through the novelty of the first year, but now it is wearing thin! I think you still sound pretty positive though, in the way you are trying to get a handle on what is going on here. The first questions that come up for me on reading your email are:
- Whose idea was it for your boyfriend to go the mines?
- How long are you two planning on living as a FIFO family?
- Were you both 'on the same page' about it all when he started?
- Are you still on the same page when it comes to how long he will be working FIFO?
I am wondering if you saw the FIFO thing as a short-term goal and perhaps now it is looking as though it might continue? One of the issues I commonly see in FIFO is that people (individuals, couples or families) get somewhat 'stuck' in the lifestyle. A year or two comes and goes quickly and the great money seems to just get absorbed, either in paying debts or having a fun time. This is ok if you both agree, but causes problems if one person likes the mining lifestyle more than the other. This can lead the other (their partner) to feel 'stuck' in a lifestyle. Both partners can then end up stressed, distressed and resentful.
Perhaps sit down and have chat with your boyfriend about how long he is thinking of working in the mines and see if this is the same as it was when he started out. If he has extended his timeframe, it's worth re-visiting your goals as individuals and as a couple and seeing if some compromise can be reached about the timeframe. If it is your partner's goal to have a medium to long-term career in the mines, then I suggest you both talk through the pros and cons of such a goal for you as a couple. FIFO can be a great lifestyle, but it is definitely more likely to work well if both partners agree on the timeframe and goals involved.
It might also help you to trace back over the past 12 months and have a look at when your attitude to the mining lifestyle started to change? Was it sudden and if so, what happened? If not, how did your attitude gradually start to change? Tracing the history of your thoughts about FIFO, as well as any relevant events that occurred over the year, will probably help you make some more sense of what is going on. Of course, there is no one answer to the question of what will make FIFO easier. It depends greatly on what is causing you the most difficulty. Is it that you feel disconnected from your boyfriend when he's away? Or perhaps you disagree on how time is spent when he is home? Any or all of these issues can be worked through as a couple in a problem-solving way. You might find it helpful to read through my previous columns and Q&As (they're listed below) to see if any of the tips are useful. In particular, you might want to check out my articles on staying connected and prioritising time together.
You say that your resentment perhaps comes from your boyfriend "finding it easier to cope" than you do. Does this mean that he doesn't seem to miss you when he is away? Or that he finds the goodbyes easier? Sometimes when one person isn't coping so well, the other copes extra well to try to not stress the 'non-coper' any more ... the result is a lopsided scenario where one person shows all the emotion and negativity of a given situation and the other 'stays strong' or 'stays positive'. I don't know if this is going on in your relationship but it might be worth thinking about. I think it's highly possible that your boyfriend also has some doubts or concerns about FIFO, but he may not want to let on!
I hope this helps, please come back to me if I can be of any further assistance.
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.