Q&A: Feeling trapped in FIFO lifestyle

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: My partner and I have been together for two years, and he has been working FIFO for many more than that. I have two children from a previous marriage and my partner and I have recently been trying to have a baby. When we first met I didn't mind the FIFO lifestyle at all, I quite liked the independance, but since we purchased a home together I've begun to hate it. I constantly feel lonely and abandoned. I now feel trapped as we have purchased a house and I can't afford to pay for it on my own. I don't want to leave my partner but I'm feeling that I really can't live this FIFO life. My partner says he is not qualified to do anything outside of mining. I'm wondering if abandonment during my childhood is making FIFO lifestyle difficult for me?

A: I'm really sorry to hear that things have been tough for you recently. It sounds like you have a lot on your mind.

I'll start by answering your question: Yes, it is true that childhood issues like abandonment can make coping with FIFO more challenging. It's also true that if you're aware of this, and you have a supportive partner, the FIFO lifestyle can work out for you – you might just need to work that bit harder at it than someone who had an easier background with no abandonment (that sucks I know!)

What happened with our childhood can certainly influence how we view ourselves and our relationships in adulthood, but the good news is that we're not totally defined by it. For example, someone raised in a family with pretty good parents who hung around and did what parents are meant to do might still find aspects of the FIFO lifestyle tricky. But they probably wouldn't worry about their partner as much as someone who has a history of being let down by those important to them.

The trick here is to understand the impact those early events had on you, and work to understand how that influences your thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the here and now. It's not necessarily easy, but with some professional support it's not too hard either – my advice is to have a chat to a psychologist. He or she will be able to help you to fully understand how your personal history might be playing a role in your difficulties with FIFO at the moment.

You also mention feeling 'stuck' in the lifestyle, and I wonder how much this is impacting on how you are thinking and feeling about FIFO overall. Lots of people talk about hating FIFO when they feel like they are a slave to it, rather than seeing FIFO as something they have chosen to suit their needs (be they financial or otherwise). See if you can re-evaluate your thinking about this and have a chat to your partner about your goals as a couple. Is owning the house important to both of you? Are there other goals that are important?

It's interesting that you initially liked FIFO, but more recently don't, and I wonder if it could be owning a house with your partner – and not FIFO – that has you feeling stuck and less independent? I have spoken to a lot of women over the years who start to panic when they realise they are becoming dependent on their partner's income by buying a house together. This may be especially true for someone who is used to standing on their own two feet and being independent (as you must have been, as a single mum for a period of time). If you have a good think about all of this and still feel very stuck, I’d suggest you seek some financial advice on the best way forward with the house.

I would also like you to have a close look at your current thoughts. It sounds like you are spending a lot of time thinking ‘lonely thoughts’ which will only serve to make you feel more and more down. Watch your ‘lonely thinking’ and try to fend off loneliness before it comes by keeping busy and doing things you enjoy. Have a think about what was different when you did quite like FIFO – what did you do differently? What or how did you think that was different to how you are now?

It is true that FIFO does not suit everyone, and you might end up finding that it is not for you. I think you've been very sensible and insightful to start to have a think about how your childhood might be influencing your reactions now. That's the first step. In my opinion, the next step is having a chat with a professional about how your past might be getting in the way of the life you want to be living now.

I wish you all the best – I hope this advice helps.


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.