coping when they are away: Sue’s story
Whether you’re the one working away or the one staying home, FIFO relationships can be difficult and stressful at times. Some couples may find this works well for them, but for others it can be a strain on the relationship. Recognising the major problems you both face and working through them together can be tough, but very worthwhile for both parties’ mental health and emotional wellbeing.
I talked to Sue* about her time as the partner of a FIFO worker, and she was kind enough to tell me of her experience and a few things she would do to stay healthy in body and mind. When Sue first met her partner James*, he was working a roster of 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off, but this wasn’t always certain which made things like planning quite difficult. After his swing was made permanent, they were able to make more long term plans so that they could know in advance when James would be home to attend school, family and social events. “Really this meant we were prepared” – Sue.
Sue mentioned that she did indeed have times where she felt down, but to feel better she would assign an emotion to each of the three weeks. “The first week I would feel fine and just get on with life because it was the first week he was away. The second week I would feel sad because I missed him so much and then the third week it was exciting because he was coming home again. So I guess breaking the time away down helped a lot”.
Sue was also working a full time job and caring for her growing kids, so there was a lot to focus on. She identified the importance of having a good friendship network, one that she could still rely on while her partner was away, and also how physical activity assisted her in coping. “I love to exercise, so I have always found this important for me – granted it was more ad hoc when the children were little – but as they got older I found time to exercise – even if it was getting up very early in the morning before everyone else”.
When missing out on events, Sue and James had the mindset that simply sometimes James could be there and sometimes he couldn’t, and that was okay. Sue would always share the events and celebrations with James through emails, and tried to make the most of the time they had together by celebrating ‘everything and anything’. Focusing on the positives and not letting the negatives get the best of you was a great way to cope when things became difficult.
“When all else failed, sometimes just writing an email (that would eventually be read by James) was enough to share any burdens. Knowing that he could not do anything – he was always thoughtful in his words and encouraging of me in my efforts”
Staying positive can be difficult but remember not to devalue your problems, talk things through with your partner or a health care professional, such as your GP or a counsellor, if you are having trouble coping during the tough times.
You can also get help and support from online forums, educational resources and online counselling services. For families with kids, try this link if your children are finding it difficult to cope while you or your partner is away. It’s a difficult aspect of this type of work that your partner must be away for a period of time, but know there are always supports available to family.
*Name changed for confidentiality