Q&A: My partner and I have just started FIFO and I don't think we can survive it
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Hi, my partner and I have recently relocated interstate to do FIFO. He returned home from his first shift exhausted and we continually argued. We didn't even sleep in the same bed when he came home as he said he's just a guest and I'm used to sleeping on my own. I don't feel as though our relationship will last this living apart. The option has come up to buy a caravan and rent out our house and I can go with him. I know I will be seeing him every day and hope this will make the relationship last. We have both been quite depressed and lonely and miss each other a lot. Any advice?
I'm really glad you found our website and asked for support so quickly. While it can certainly take a while to settle into FIFO, it does seem to me as though you and your partner are having more than the usual difficulties adjusting.
Lots of questions come up for me on reading your email – the first one is what prompted your partner to try FIFO now? In any partnership where one person works FIFO, it is vital that both parties agree it is a good idea, and preferable that each agrees on why it is a good idea. Re-visiting this together is probably important at this stage.
The next question is: what did you two argue so much about when he came home? Thinking through this, and talking about it together, will be useful. Looking back over the arguments, do you think that the topics you argued about are likely to settle down with time as you both get used to FIFO, or are they likely to be ongoing issues?
FIFO often goes well for individuals and couples who are committed to making it work for them, and who are clear about why they want it to work. Also, couples who do well tend to be those who can cope relatively well with being apart from each other.
It's also good if the 'home' person has a support network to call on when the partner is away, and if both partners feel comfortable connecting over the phone, Skype or email when they're apart.
FIFO doesn’t work out for everyone. People who are likely to struggle more than usual are those with a personal history of difficult separations or loss, or those who generally find being apart from their loved one unbearable.
My advice to you is to firstly think (and chat together) again about what led you two to FIFO and see if you're still committed to it. You’ll find some further advice on this in a previous column I wrote on deciding if FIFO is right for you.
If you do want to keep giving FIFO a go, think through what the arguments were about and how these issues might be resolved AS A TEAM (i.e. ask questions like “How are WE going to solve these issues and make this lifestyle work?”).
If you can't see a way through these issues, or if either of you have a history of difficult or painful separations or loss (such as parental divorce or death) then it will be really helpful to get some professional support (such as from a psychologist).
If, on reflection, you don't think FIFO is for you, then give the caravan a try!
Good luck with whatever decision you and your partner decide to make.
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.