Q&A: FIFO girlfriend struggling with lack of communication

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: I have been reading some of Sarah's blog and thought I'd send a quick email. My mining man and I have been dating for a few months. He has been in the mining industry for a while so is quite used to it. I however am really struggling with the distance and the day shifts/night shifts. We lose two days for travel each break and when he is home I'm working most of the time and feel that the time we spend together is not necessarily quality time. Now I have to admit that this hasn't been a huge issue until this current roster. Usually we would have phone contact throughout the day and night (little text message pep talks prior to a day at work was always welcomed). This time around his employer has turned off the WIFI which has been our mode of communication. Their argument is that workers are exploiting the WIFI during times other than breaks and smokos. So now due to our conflicting schedule we have less than 10 mins a day to communicate ... usually as he comes off night shift and I wake at 5am. As you can imagine neither of us are really awake enough to be able to communicate at our best. He is supportive and keeps explaining that it will get easier. But that notion is not overly helpful at the minute. I'm starting to feel like my mining man is merely a figment of my imagination. Help me!

Hi and thanks for your email.

Firstly, it’s great to hear that your boyfriend is supportive – that’s a great start!

Getting used to someone you love working away is tricky to say the least, especially if you haven’t had this sort of relationship before. So, I guess hearing him say that “things will get better” isn’t really helpful for you (if you can’t see how things will get better).

There are two issues here: 1) how time is spent when he’s home; and 2) how to stay connected when he is away.

Firstly, how R&R time is spent is one of the issues that lots of couples have when one person works away. There are no easy answers to this one, but here are some general tips:

  • Have a talk about each other’s priorities when he’s home. This can help you understand why he’s spending the time the way he is (and sometimes can help him see that, actually, seeing his old mate isn’t necessarily important enough to do on every break). Check out: Making time work in busy relationships
  • Work together on an agreement of days/evenings that are just for each other. It can be frustrating for us 9-5 workers to understand that all appointments etc. have to be done in the FIFO worker’s R&R time, but that’s just the way it is. I know that FIFO workers get annoyed about that too! Some partners take an occasional day of leave so they can spend the day just hanging out.
  • Ask your boyfriend to consider keeping in contact with his friends and family by phone, email and text while he’s away. In my experience a lot of guys don’t do this, and this adds to the pressure to cram everyone in during their break.

Now, regarding the communication issue: you make a good point when you say that it hasn’t been a huge issue until this time, when the WIFI has been turned off. So this tells me that you guys have been coping pretty well when you can communicate regularly, and this is great. I hope that the WIFI issue is only temporary and that you two can soon get back to how you were going.

In the meantime (and for the future) here are some tips that have helped other couples:

  • Look for different ways of staying connected and staying in contact, and don’t just rely on mobile phones. If possible send letters, cards and presents by ‘snail mail’; pack little notes or presents in his bag; agree to think about each other at exactly the same time each day; watch the same movie or TV series or read the same book.
  • Plan ahead for things to do together in the future. Book a long weekend away (or a longer holiday if possible); plan a BBQ or party; plan to go and see a movie you both want to see.
  • Accept that the short communication won’t be great for either of you, so avoid any difficult conversations or issues that might cause disagreement during that 10-minute chat! If it’s really not working well, just agree to talk every second day.
  • Keep talking about what is going well for you and what is not working well for you and re-visit this often as a couple. 

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.