The highs and lows of FIFO life

‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely.’

The highs and lows of FIFO life for partners has been well documented, but having become a ‘FIFO partner’ in 2021, I’ve come to understand the stresses and strains of not so much keeping our relationship strong (FYI this has NOTHING to do with our relationship not being a priority, it’s just not my personal challenge in this scenario), but more so of keeping MYSELF strong and steady and to a degree, my usual level of upbeat energy while my partner’s gone.

There’s highs and lows to every situation – FIFO life especially – but I think it’s taken me some time to feel completely ok to be missing him, for maybe feeling a little ‘flatter’ more often during his site time and to not deny myself of those feelings or feel guilty for it.

Oh, and the fact at the start of this year during after almost a month-long stint away, my anxiety started to really creep in again and no matter how much for the life of me I tried to get completely on top of it, I couldn’t. Half the battle was resisting always missing him and feeling him being away. Feeling the effect. Waiting and wanting it to be fly in day and not 100% being able to focus on and appreciate the day in present and being grateful for the now. Not like me at all. And it was shitting me – big time!

“We rush to escape what makes us anxious, which makes us anxious, and so we rush some more.” – Sarah Wilson

So, after finally saying this out loud to a few people, I realised that being in the holistic health and self-development industry I’m in, I’m already armed with a pretty decent tool kit in terms of ways to work through it. But it might not be the case for many FIFO partners who are struggling to find a happy peace (or happy medium) and level of contentment with the lifestyle. That’s why I wanted to share a few experiences, practices and boundaries I’ve put into place that have been helping me while he’s away and may just help you (or someone you know) too.

Tip 1: Work even harder to have and keep your non-negotiables.

This is the easiest time to let work, kids, friends, family etc be an excuse and let things go haywire but keeping your ‘self-love/me time’ rituals in place that you know help keep you mentally grounded and feeling good all round needs to be a priority. For me, that’s honouring my exercise, ocean swims, fresh air, sunshine, park dates with the dog, stillness and complete quiet, reading outside with brekky or a cuppa, choosing content from podcasts (books too) that keep me present and my mind strong AND most importantly being aware of how much energy I have, want and CAN give out to others – which changes on the daily. Sometimes, I crave company and sometimes it works better for me to be in my own quiet space and saving it all for me.

“Studies have shown that particularly and anxious minds need a lot of space – or downtime – foe what is called our Default Mode Network to make sense of things…what we need is more space.” – Sarah Wilson

Allow yourself permission to work out your personality, your values, your energy, your needs.

Not sure where to start? Have a morning routine. I’m super aware every partners life situation is going to be a little different, but how my morning goes generally determines the outcome of my mood and headspace for the day. Especially if I wake up feeling nervy and unsettled. This happened recently on the first morning I awoke without him after almost a month home (too much off time home  – you’ll get why later). But I’m committed to my regular Thursday 5.45am yoga class followed by an ocean dip and by the time I got home, showered and made my brekky and tea and sat outside for 20 minutes of sunshine with my book, I felt calm, settled and myself.

FYI: I first read Sarah Wilson’s book on anxiety ‘first, we make the beast beautiful’ back in 2018 and recently pulled it out again to start randomly reading passages. It’s been super helpful, and I recommend everyone and ANYONE who experiences anxiety themselves or via a loved one in their life give it a read.

Tip 2: Stay connected to your partner in some way each day.

It’s not going to be the same as when they’re home and schedules can be completely unaligned, but Rob and I text every day from good morning to good night and understand and respect the amount we text looks different each day, based on how busy our workday (or day in general) is. We make sure to FaceTime (or ‘MugTime’ as we playfully call it) every night be it 2 minutes, 15 minutes or the very occasional 30 minutes. We never go a day without communicating, checking in and sharing our day.

There can also be a sense of guilt that your partner’s working hard on 12-14 hour shifts and you’re complaining because you miss them. I used to hold back but I’ve learnt it’s ok to be honest with Rob if I’m feeling sad or struggling a bit that day. Often towards end of a swing he’ll be feeling exhausted and really ready for home too, so it enables us to share, connect and support each other’s feelings vs bottle it up.

Tip 3: Make room for extra activities with yourself, family and friends.

I’m talking about using the space you leave for your partner when they’re home and filling half (or most!) of it for YOU and then some for others. We all know relationships take healthy compromise, so I tend to make myself more available to work or friends and family during his away time, so that I can allow more time for Rob when he is home. And I’ve started to become quite forward and firm about this with my inner personal and professional circles and have been met with nothing but complete understanding and respect.

I’ll say no to certain invites (both social and professional) or ask if we can schedule certain catch ups outside of a weekend that he is home. Quality connection and time outside of my own workday hours is super important, precious and craved by both of us. It can sound selfish, but you have to be. It’s what makes your relationship strong and a huge contributor in getting through the time they are away. I’ve also decided to go down to 4 days a week permanently. It suits me professionally and personally at this stage of my life and career and it suits our FIFO life, as I’ll always tack an extra day onto a weekend for ‘us’ time.

Tip 4: Ask for help if you need it.

Many partners will just stay quiet and ‘soldier on’ as they say but I say open up and be honest with those around you and at work if you are struggling. Many FIFO families are just that, families that include and also affect kids. If they have to do it, who am I to struggle? I recently let go of the guilt that just because we don’t have kids, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel the difference in not having him at home to share daily life and to do lists with. Once I openly shared this with colleagues and friends and family, I found the pressure I placed on myself to still be as energetically available to everything, dropped.

February was a bit of testing month for me and after feeling the pressure of not having as much in me to be able to show up for others as I normally would, I opened up to my mum and she came over for a sleep over. Now it’s something we will do more regularly.

I’ll finish off by saying that I don’t think I’ll ever ‘love’ the FIFO life. I know some who do and that’s great! But for me, I really do find life better with Rob physically home to enjoy it with. In saying that, you can learn to perhaps not resist or resent, and find a way to EMBRACE it. Thankfully, things have changed a lot in the FIFO industry here and mental health and supporting workers, partners and family is now a huge aspect of what many companies provide and look out for. Most swings are one or two weeks on and one week off compared to when three, four or even five weeks on and one off was the norm! Rob’s now gone from an irregular roster (another whole challenge in planning things there!) to one week on, one week off. Having experienced close to a month of him away and close to a month of him home (sans working) I realised the blessing in these two 180’s was to help me find not just the acceptance, but the good that this new scenario can bring if I let it.

Stay juicy,

C xx