Q&A: How do I stop feelings of panic about my husband's drinking on the mine site?

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: My husband has been doing FIFO for a while now. Last night he rang and told me he'd had too much to drink on shift change and made himself sick. I know this shouldn't be an issue, but before I met him I was stuck in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic and drug addict. I was worried when my husband started FIFO that he would get swept up in "drinking with the boys" and I would soon see (hear of) the behaviour I used to with my ex. Every shift change he has a few drinks with the boys, which is fine, because I have come to trust that I have nothing to worry about, but each shift change it has gotten just a little worse. So to me this is huge. I feel betrayed. I feel terrified this is the beginning of the end. I am envisaging a future in which it gets out of hand and ruins our marriage. What if our marriage isn't strong enough to survive FIFO? Can you please give me some advice on how to deal with these feelings of insecurity and fear, and to be ok with the poor guy just trying to live his life?

A: It's so terrible to argue on the phone while your partner is away, isn’t it? I’m sorry that you are having a hard time with all this, and it is understandable, given your history.

As I am reading your email I notice that what your husband is doing is one thing, but what is happening in your mind is another thing entirely! It’s no wonder you have got yourself into a state when you have been allowing your mind to run away with the idea that your husband's drinking is going to lead to the end of your marriage! You must get control of your thinking. I know that it is hard to do but you have to learn how to re-direct your mind away from the thinking you are doing now (called ‘catastrophising’ because it's making a catastrophe out of something that isn’t necessarily one).

The first step is to notice when you are thinking in that way, and then to re-direct your thinking. When thoughts are very strong it’s best to distract away from them with something very absorbing – like watching a movie, listening to loud music that you can sing along to, catch up with a friend or try something new that requires all your attention when you're not busy with work and/or children (mosaics, zumba, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking a complicated recipe, re-doing your garden, re-decorating your house, learning a new sport). The trick here is to re-direct your thinking whenever your catastrophe comes into your mind. It takes some practice but it is worth it.

The other thing to do is to pay attention to the tension in your body that comes when you start thinking about your husband drinking. Work on calming your body down with deep breaths and wiggling your fingers and toes and dropping your shoulders.

Now, on to the actual issue, which is your husband’s drinking. It is very hard when our partner does something that we disagree with, especially if they don’t stop 'for us', despite our most heartfelt requests.

It’s OK for you to state your preference to your husband: "I would prefer that you didn’t drink to the point of being drunk" and the reason why, but then it is up to him how he manages his own behaviour. I know this is scary but he is not your ex-partner and it sounds like you two have built up trust in the relationship in the past.

This is one time that I will say something a little unusual (and I say it only because you seem to have a good relationship and his excessive drinking on the mine site occurred only once): stop talking about the issue for a good few weeks. Take the wait-and-see approach and work on seeing all the positive aspects of your relationship.

I hope that you can manage to get a handle on your thinking, because this really is the key here. Please consider having a chat to a psychologist in your area for some extra tips if it feels impossible to stop your 'catastrophising'. All the best and thanks again for your email.

More expert advice from Angie:

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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.