Note: for the sake of the flow of this post, it has been written from the perspective of consisting of a male FIFO worker and a female partner at home, however, I am not excluding relationships of any other dynamic, this is merely the perspective I am living and hence the easiest form to write in. Similar dynamics apply to couples where the female is the FIFO worker and the man stays at home, or same sex couples.
In FIFO relationships, one of the issues we struggle with is getting into fights while your partner is away. Your partner says something that upsets you, and in a split moment you retaliate, and then spend the rest of the ten allocated minutes on the phone either arguing, realising no one will win this one, or you ignore the elephant in the room and have an emotionless empty conversation that also serves no one.
Often these arguments are based on issues we experience when they are home, and a quick comment over the phone takes you back to that initial discussion in a flash. Resentment is born and grows by every stint.
Eventually you are living in a vicious circle of the FIFO worker emotionally removing themselves more and more, taking up undesirable behaviour such as not caring about the home when they’re finally there, going on more and more benders with the boys, they start telling lies about their activities, and the resentment grows bigger yet. And likewise the person at home becomes more and more nagging, questioning or condemning every act of their partner, distrusting, attacking and putting their partner down.
This scenario sounds horrible and unsustainable, but the relationships where this dynamic doesn’t exist to some extent are few and far between, even if the behaviours aren’t constant.
So how do you change that vicious cycle and return to a place of love and care for our partners, and invoke the same behaviour in them?
Well as I allude to, it starts with you!
You have to find a way to be your own person separate from your partner and without relying on him to make you happy (him or anyone else for that matter). Yes, you’re always going to miss him, and if you’re anything like me you’ve probably got some abandonment wounds from your childhood that the universe is now providing the perfect opportunity for you to fix – that bit sucks – but the sooner you can come around to that idea the sooner the FIFO situation won’t affect you as much.
So, have a think, what do you enjoy doing for YOU? What activities really fill you up that aren’t escapism from being on your own (eg drinking, socialising, binge watching Netflix)? Do more of that! And don’t think that rules out doing the other things, it just ensures you also fill your cup with activities that really nurture your soul.
For me it has been years of journeying, starting with working on my fitness level, eating healthy, getting strong after having had two kids and an overall feeling of health and vitality.
That was the base. On top of that I have built a strong meditation practice, I take time out frequently to ground myself (e.g. laying on the oval after school pickup as the kids play – simple as that), and I have eventually learned to listen to my needs and honour them.
If you are feeling particularly lonely in your FIFO existence, seeking out some sort of group activity or sport is an amazing way to meet new people and socialise. You don’t have to go there to make friends, it is simply a way to get out of the house and be a person away from your partner.
Finding a group training option that I could bring my kids along to was my saviour. And guess what, I had given up on the idea of being able to work out because of the constraint of being the only carer for my kids. The options immediately present to me just didn’t work. But I kept feeling that was my answer, and lo and behold, one day the solution was given to me on a silver platter. A new fitness group, outdoors by a playground, with a trainer specialising in rebuilding the fitness of new mums. I asked, and I received, and you can too.
Further ways to combat the loneliness is to adopt a pet, you can run into many new people and their pets at the local oval or river track, and having kids was also an awesome idea (trivial as it sounds, but it really helped me cement a network through day-care and school – not a reason to have kids of course.
So, once you have built your own base of physical and mental health, the next step is to feel into the upset your man causes when he acts out. What is he triggering in you, why does his behaviour make you so upset. Is the fact that he goes out on the town with the boys really a big deal, or does it trigger a deeper feeling of loneliness and rejectedness in you? Could you perhaps be drawing on emotions of feeling abandoned as a child, and you are now projecting these emotions onto your partner for him to heal?
If any of this rings true, know that no partner will ever be able to heal that feeling of abandonment. Your subconscious will always find a way to bring up the hurt and project it onto anyone or any situation, so you can blame your feelings on that, rather than deal with the real issue. And the way to deal with it is simply to be with it.
Create awareness of what is really going on, allow the painful memories to flood you, allow the girl you were back then to feel all the sadness, and then remind her that you will now look after her and never let her feel that lonely again. That your adult self now has enough love and strength in you, that you don’t need to rely on anyone else to feel that void.
Now this is not a nod to misguided feminism that we don’t “need no man”, rather it is a point to your inner being, that only you can be held responsible for your own happiness, only you can nurture yourself the way you need to be nurtured, and having a wonderful man by your side is just an added bonus in this lifetime.
With that in mind, let’s focus on your man and his behaviour.
I would like to bet, that whatever he did to make you upset, 99% of the time is NOT with malicious intent. Men are extremely good at looking after their own needs, much better than women, and so, if they feel like going for a beer with a mate, that becomes their first priority. And you will probably say “but why doesn’t he understand that it hurts me when he does so?”, and he may or may not be aware of your emotions, but the important point here is that for him to be able to be a good man and show up for you, he also needs to look after his needs – in the same way you do.
Of course, if he ‘needs’ to go out for a beer with his friends til the early morning every night he is home, then there are bigger problems, but the occasional night out is simply a way for him to re-centre, let off some steam, so he can come back to you refreshed and filled up.
Now, a man who is on his own quest to find awareness and enlightenment will choose activities that are healthier than alcohol and late nights of course. But that is his journey to go on, and not something anyone else can push him into. But by all means, lead by example. He might just follow. That certainly seems to be the case in our household.
So, how do you deal with the situation if your man has been out?
I for one cannot rest until Caleb is home in bed safe and sound. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of this, whether it is a motherly concern for his wellbeing, or if it is my own needs to know that he comes back at a decent hour, it is probably a mix of both, and if I’m being completely honest, we are still to have a completely pain free experience in this regard – even if I am getting much better.
But what is important, is that by letting your man satisfy his needs for connection to the things that keep his cup full, his needs seem to be satisfied for longer. If you can let him go into his cave when he needs to recharge (the cave here being synonymous with watching TV/going fishing/going to the pub with the boys), you find him showing up for you more. Whereas if there is a fight every time he needs to go, he will tend to stay longer and need to go more often.
Of course it will take some time to turn the tides, but if you add in a good dose of genuine respect and admiration for the things he satisfies for you, the change can happen quite quickly. By respect and admiration I mean verbally noting the things he does for you that satisfies your needs, using words like “I really appreciate when you…”, “it makes me feel really (positive emotion) when you…”. This all comes back to you tapping into the love and affection you have for him, and choosing to base your responses to his actions on those feelings as a default.
After reading all of this you may want to say “but why do I have to make all the sacrifices, why doesn’t he have to change anything?” and to that I say, you can only change you!
Be the lighthouse, be the person setting the tone for how you want your relationship to look and feel, and perhaps he will follow. If not, well that’s a discussion for another website.