Q&A: how to know when you've had enough of FIFO?

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By psychologist Angie Willcocks

Q: How do you know if you have had enough of your husband working away? The fact that I’m asking is an obvious sign, I know. I guess my question is more about other signs? 

A: Thanks for your question. I’m sure it will be relevant for a lot of our Mining Family Matters readers.

Your question is a tricky one for me to answer, because I don’t have details of what is going on for you and I’m not sure there is a‘one-size-fits-all answer ... but I’ll give it a go!

You’re right: the fact that you are asking the question is telling. I think a good place to start to nut out an answer is to trace a bit of a history of it.

Have a think about the following questions (you might want to make some notes because writing things down often helps this process):

  • When did you first notice that you were starting to think you’d had enough?
  • What was happening around that time?
  • What was working well at that time, and what wasn’t?

Often the home partner starts to think they’ve had enough of their partner working away during a particularly difficult time (and vice versa). Once the seed has been planted, they often find themselves noticing and thinking about all the negatives about fly-in, fly-out (FIFO). When this happens, it’s very easy to forget why you chose the lifestyle and very difficult to remember any positives.

I always encourage couples to regularly assess how FIFO is working for them. You can do this with your partner or separately (and then talk about it later). Have a think about what is working well for you, and what is not. Reflect on the goals you had when your partner started working away, and assess how these are going.

Think about your current situation and the factors that make FIFO difficult. List all of these factors. Also, have a think about any factors that you like about FIFO, and things that are working well. List all of these too. Talk through your lists with your partner and ask him to talk through his.

Next, see if you can identify any specific problems that are making your life difficult, and work through this using formal problem solving steps (below is the template I use with clients, and just contact us if you'd like a printable PDF).

You can do this with as many problems as you like, and at the end of this process you will have a clear list of steps to take to improve your situation. Give these a try and make sure you then give yourself a time frame to reassess how things are going, which should ideally be in three to six months.

After that, it should be much clearer whether or not the time has come to move on, or whether it was just a tricky phase that needed some new solutions.

Problem Solving Template

Step 1: What is the problem?

Think about the problem carefully. Discuss this with someone first if you’re not sure how to describe or define the problem. Then write down exactly what the problem is.


Step 2: List all the possible solutions.

Brainstorm and write down all ideas, even silly or bad ones. List all possible solutions without any evaluation of them at this stage.


Step 3: Go through/discuss each possible solution.

Quickly go down the list of possible solutions and assess the feasibility/advantages/disadvantages of each one.


Step 4: Choose the best practical solution.

Choose the solution that can be carried out most easily with your present resources (time, money, skills etc.)


Step 5: Plan to carry out the best solution.

List any resources needed and the steps required to carry out the solution. Do you need any more information? What are the steps needed?

  • Step 1:
  • Step 2:
  • Step 3:
  • Step 4:


Step 6: Review how well the solution went and review as needed.

Revise your plans if necessary, and re-do the problem solving steps if needed.

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.