Q&A: Help! I want a housemate, my FIFO boyfriend sees it differently
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: Hi Angie, my boyfriend and I have been together for a few years and he has been FIFO since we met. We have had our ups and downs with FIFO but overall I think we handle it pretty well and I feel like I have always coped well with it. We have just started talking about moving in together and I told my boyfriend that I want to have another housemate as I don't want to be by myself when he is away. I am a social person and get lonely being by myself, especially at nights, for more than a few days. My boyfriend wasn't happy about this and told me that I'll have to get used to it one day because he is always going to be FIFO ... but it's something I really don't want to do! I don't know how to tackle this without it seeming like I'm trying to make him feel guilty about working FIFO. I also want him to see my side. At the same time I don't know what the solution is because he is probably always going to be FIFO (it's kind of necessary with his job) and I don't want to live by myself for weeks at a time! Very confused and any help would be much appreciated.
A: It's a tough one! I have been thinking lots about your question because I can really see both sides of the argument. Of course, lots of my work with couples is like this, in that there is not usually a 'right' or 'wrong' answer to the dilemmas that couples face. One person wants to move interstate, their partner doesn't; one person wants to renovate the house, their partner doesn't ... and so on it goes.
It's obviously not my job as a relationship counsellor to take one person's side over another. My job in these situations is to encourage each person to talk about the thoughts and feelings behind their position. It's important that their partner gets to hear what is behind what they want, but it's equally important that the person talking gets to explore their own ideas too.
Very often in this sharing process, a lot of ideas and beliefs come to light and we see more clearly what is going on. This in turn can often lead to better understanding and compromise.
Here's an example. In the situation above where one person wanted to renovate and the other didn't, one of the thoughts that came to light was: “If we renovate we will have to work on the house every weekend and we'll never get to go out.” This idea came from the partner who was very social, and he feared that renovating would make this area of his life even less satisfying than it already was. On the other hand, his less social partner wanted to renovate because she felt unhappy with the house, and she hoped that an improved kitchen would make her feel more comfortable about inviting people over. It's a simple but true example – a topic of disagreement was improved by uncovering the thoughts behind their individual positions.
So, I encourage you and your partner to spend some time looking into the thoughts and feelings that are behind your preferred position on having a housemate.
If you were both in my office I'd also ask you to imagine that the other person got what they wanted, and then I'd ask you to think about what it would take to make that situation work. So for you, imagine what it would take to live with your partner and not have another housemate. How would you cope? What would help? What (if any) new skills or strategies would you need to learn? And for your boyfriend, I'd ask him to think about the same questions with regard to having a housemate.
Finally, I often say that couples should have a think about how they will cope with FIFO before they do it, and that they take a positive attitude to making it work. It sounds like you're doing a good job at this, so well done and all the very best with your decision.
PS: remember that a decision like this can always be reversed later on! Good luck.
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.