Q&A: FIFO's tougher than we thought. What to do?

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Hi, I'm sure you've been asked this before but we're struggling and need some help. My partner and I have been together for a while now and during this time we have had a long-distance relationship and worked shift work, so thought we'd be well equipped to deal with FIFO. We're both been through massive career changes, with him now working FIFO and me working 9-5. We both don't much like our jobs. I'm living away from my support network and I know no-one here. I've tried making friends and joined the gym, yoga and go to the markets but it doesn't seem to be working with the last friendship attempt turning out to be a pyramid selling scheme! When my partner is back we have two weekends together but they are split between his family and friends. He works very hard on the house while I'm at work (despite me telling him to relax) and has no energy at the weekends for us to do anything. He doesn't like his job, but financially feels he needs to be there. He's no longer doing his fitness, fishing or cooking because he doesn't have energy - and admits his feeling a bit depressed. I've suggested counselling but he's reluctant. We have nothing to speak about on the phone because our jobs are quite boring and I have no-one to socialise with. I'm feeling quite lost at the moment, we both feel like we've lost our zest for life, and I don't know how to fix it. We were going to start a family, but now I just don't think it’s the right time – it feels like things are going down the gurgler a bit. If you could offer any advice at all, that would be great.

Sorry things have been so tough for you and your partner recently. FIFO can certainly take a while to get used to ... but it sounds like there is a bit more to it than just getting used to FIFO here. You raise a number of issues and I will try to address each one.

Firstly, you mention that you've both been through some “massive” career changes lately. Big life changes, whether they are 'positive' or not, are challenging to face and can bring up some complex emotions (like grief for the loss of the 'old life'). This is coupled with the fact that neither of you really likes your new job, so it's no wonder that you're both feeling a bit flat. Obviously I don't know the details of your career change, or current dissatisfaction at work, but it might be worthwhile considering some career counselling or life coaching about this issue.

FIFO will continue to be tough for anyone who feels stuck because of financial commitments. That's harsh but true. Can your partner try to shift his thinking about this to see that he is making a choice, even if that 'choice' is to work FIFO for a period of time to pay off some debts? It might seem like a small point, but a change in this thinking process can help FIFO workers feel more in control of their lives.

FIFO also seems to be trickier when the 'home' partner lives away from their usual support network. It sounds like you've done a great job trying to make new friends and connections – keep it up! If it's practical, it's worthwhile considering moving closer to your support network if your partner is going to remain working FIFO for the long term.

Arguing about how time is spent when the FIFO worker is home is one of the main issues I discuss with couples. Have a look at my previous column on sharing precious time for help with this one. I hope you'll find some useful information there.

With regards to you two not having much to talk about when he's away, my advice is to create something new to talk about. Being bored at work is a good excuse to not talk about work, and an opportunity to find other things to discuss. What shared interests do you have? Do you like the same books, movies, TV shows or games? Some couples I know read the same book, watch the same movie or play the same computer game so they have something to discuss when they’re apart. Other couples start a joint 'project' like making a veggie garden or renovating a house so they can do it together when the FIFO worker is home, and talk about it when he's not. This might all sound a bit forced, and it might feel it initially as well, but these are the sorts of things that couples committed to making FIFO work for them find useful.

Finally, on the matter of your partner's mood; it does sound as though he might be experiencing depression at the moment. One of the classic symptoms of depression is losing interest in previously enjoyed activities, like fishing and the gym in your partner's case. Depression also brings a real sense of “can't be bothered” and not having enough energy. It's important that your partner sees a GP to rule out any physical causes of this low energy, and to have a chat about his mood. He could also visit the Beyond Blue website (www.beyondblue.org.au) for more info on depression and where to get help.

I hope all of this 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.