24 Oct Working FIFO? Five Strategies For Relationship Success

The FIFO lifestyle has its benefits, but when it comes to relationships, there’s no doubt that the FIFO lifestyle brings with it a whole new degree of difficulty. As if keeping a relationship on track isn’t difficult enough!

Pressing the “pause” button on a marriage or relationship every other week or two really stuffs up the momentum that other non-FIFO couples take for granted. Add a child or two into the mix and things can get ridiculously challenging.

Safety helmets and gloves hang from a rack on a mining site

I’ve spoken with enough FIFO couples to know that many of you are flat out functioning in your respective jobs and family lives. There’s little energy or opportunity left to invest in keeping each other feeling secure, loved, and joyful about the relationship you both share.

I’ve also noticed that many of you are making common relationship errors: mistakes that aren’t helpful in any relationship, let alone a FIFO one. And why wouldn’t you, if no-body has ever given you any good ideas about how you could be doing things better?

These five strategies have helped many of my FIFO clients. See if they can help you:

1. Quarantine potentially stressful conversations

FIFO couples frequently tell me that when you’re apart, phone calls often end in conflict, because you end up talking about stressful things.

If you’re the FIFO partner, you might feel blamed, powerless, and frustrated. You’re too far away to be able to help with whatever problem or stress that’s going on at home, and you’re at a loss for what to say that might help make things better.

If you are the at-home partner, you might feel unsupported, lonely, and resentful that it’s always you who has to deal with the domestic problems, make decisions, and be solely responsible for things functioning well at home.

When you’re apart and have limited opportunity to connect, it’s crucial that you make it count.

If there are issues that must be discussed, focus on the facts only. Stay in an “Adult” state, and leave emotion out of it. Move quickly to troubleshooting, stay pro-active, and make decisions about what needs to happen next. Make a point of allocating only a portion of your time to discussing stressful stuff, rather than allowing it to dominate your entire conversation.

If there’s no immediate urgency about an issue, then don’t talk about it when you are apart. It will just eat up valuable time that is better spent talking about happier things. Make a mental list (or an actual list) so you can attend to it once you’re both home together.

2. Get really good at regulating your own emotions

All couples need to be good at this, but for FIFO couples where distance makes emotional connection so difficult, poor emotional regulation can be devastating for relationship health. It’s absolutely crucial that you both learn to get this one right.

It starts with getting really good at recognising when you’re emotionally flooded, then having the discipline and sense to pause on your interaction until you’ve calmed yourself down.

As an adult, it’s your own responsibility to soothe yourself when you’re upset, angry, or stressed.

Expecting your partner to do this for you puts enormous pressure on your relationship and ends up becoming an additional source of stress that neither of you can afford to take on.

3. Don’t whinge at each other when you reunite

One couple recently confessed to me that upon arriving home, the FIFO partner usually has a whinge about how tired he is, how hard the trip home was, or anything else that’s been tough about being away. Then the at home partner has a whinge about how tired she is, how difficult the kids have been, and anything else that’s been tough since he’s been away. It’s an unwinnable game that I call “My Life Is Harder Than Your Life”, and it’s commonly played by non-FIFO couples too.

The reality is usually that you’ve both faced challenges and difficulties since being apart. The baby wouldn’t stop crying, or the plane was delayed for hours, or you’re unwell, or your sister rang and stirred up family trouble… whatever…

The important question to ask yourself is: If I tell my partner this, will it enrich our relationship, or detract from it? Will it bring us closer? Will it make us happier? If not, is it absolutely necessary to even go there?

If there’s no obvious benefit to having a whinge, why do it? Don’t create a relationship culture where you use each other as emotional dumping grounds.

Make a conscious effort to reunite with a positive focus instead.

4. Support each other in “recovery time” when you’re both back home

It’s very common for FIFO workers with families to tell me that when you first arrive home, you really need time to recover from your heavy work and travel schedule, before feeling ready to meet the demands of family life.

It’s equally common for partners of FIFO workers to tell me that you get really mad when your partner arrives home only to sit on the couch or disappear into the bedroom to sleep for a day.
You’ve been counting down the seconds waiting for support and help.

This is a tricky one: both of you have unmet needs: one, to recover after an often gruelling period of work and travel, and the other, to recover after an often gruelling period of being home alone.

You both need (and deserve) recovery time, and whoever gets it first is something that you’ll need to negotiate together. It might always be one, or the other, or you might take turns after each period apart. Make sure you decide this in advance, so there’s no ambiguity about how the homecoming transition is going to work.

Maybe the FIFO partner gets recovery time for the first hour or day, while the at-home partner continues to carry the domestic load for that little bit longer. Or maybe the FIFO partner hits the ground running, assuming immediate responsibility for the family and allowing the at-home partner some immediate time out.

You both need and deserve a break, and you’re going to need to support each other in achieving this.

Talk about it. Have a clear understanding of what each of you need in order to recharge after periods of being apart. Plan when and how the “hand-over” is going to work. And be willing to adjust and tweak your arrangement as it evolves.

5. Establish homecoming rituals that enhance connection between you

How good are you at rekindling your relationship, from the very moment that you reunite? How easily do you reconnect with those feelings of fondness and tenderness and love that got you together in the first place?

All relationships develop a culture which is uniquely their own, and it’s the everyday rituals that you share together that builds this over time. If you want a healthy, happy, and loved-up relationship, be conscious about choosing rituals that will create health, happiness, and love. Then practice them every time you reunite, whether you feel like it or not.

Figure out for yourselves what rituals best suit you. Rituals can take as little as a minute or much longer.

Whether you’ve got a minute or an hour, be mindful of what you do when you very first reunite, and how you share those first moments home together. Make a conscious effort to treat this reconnection with some degree of sacredness.

Turn your devices off. Put the bags at the door and share a simple wordless hug or a meaningful kiss or a passionate embrace. Hold hands together and watch your baby sleeping. Rumble with the kids on the lounge room floor. Play your favourite songs. Put the kettle on. Sit together in your favourite spot and watch the kids play or the world go by. Have a shower together. Make love…

It doesn’t matter what rituals you choose to share together. Just make sure they align with the relationship culture that you want to create. Then make it a priority to practice them every time you reconnect, in good times and in bad.

Keeping a relationship on track can be tricky at the best of times, If you’re living a FIFO lifestyle, I truly hope these strategies can help you not only keep it on track, but see it thrive.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For over 20 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.