Some people cope well with change and some are more independent than others, but there’s generally a period of re-adjustment when you start working away.
The first few months will be especially tough. You should expect to experience feelings of sadness, loss and confusion – especially if you’re in a relationship but also if you’re single and suddenly parted from family and friends. These feelings usually settle down as you get into your new routine and establish new ways to stay connected.
Here are a few strategies to help you cope in the early months:
- Don’t underestimate the additional pressure that this lifestyle will place on your relationships. Most couples are vaguely aware of potential problems (“It might be hard on the kids” or “It’ll be tough for a while, until we get used to it.”) Often, though, they don’t discuss specific issues – or how to minimise them. There’s no need to be overly pessimistic, but it will help enormously to be very clear and honest about the pros and cons of working away. And be patient with one another!
- Start out with a team plan. What do you want to achieve in the short to medium term, both personally and professionally? Wages are often better when you work away, so some couples set a goal of saving a specific amount of money or buying investment properties to set themselves up financially. Others want to reach a certain management level. If you’re part of a united team with very clear goals, this can be your focus when times get tough.
- Loneliness will be an issue in the early days, especially if you’re used to being together at the end of every day and on the weekends (which will often be particularly tough). Keep busy and try not to let feelings of longing and loneliness turn into negative thoughts.
- We all have different ways of dealing with difficult situations. Some people need as much contact as possible to ease the pain, others prefer to withdraw when they’re feeling low. This can be challenging when all you have is phone contact. So if your partner seems distant and unwilling to remain on the phone in the early days, try not to take it personally.
- If you have children, be aware that this new lifestyle is likely to affect them too (see page 16). Lots of parents find it tougher than expected to be away from their children – have a good think about how you can maintain strong connections and celebrate important events even when you’re miles apart.
- If phone contact isn’t possible, use emails and ‘snail mail’. Get clever about staying connected: hide little love notes in the suitcase/around the house; agree to think happy, positive thoughts at a particular time of the day; read the same book or watch the same DVD as your partner; write a special note to each other for every day you’re apart – to be opened at the same time each day.
- Don’t assume your life is tougher than the person who’s away/at home. It’s natural to feel this way, especially when you’ve had a bad day at work and/or the kids are driving you nuts, but getting into a competition about it all won’t help your relationship.
- For moms working away, unfortunately you might sometimes face criticism for not assuming the ‘traditional’ role of primary carer for the children. Remember there is no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to families these days – you’ve got to do what works best for your little team. Just be very clear on why you are working away, seek out strong support networks and mentors and stay focussed on the positives. And be realistic: it won’t always be plain sailing, but what job ever is?
- Above all, regularly reassess how you’re all coping. Be positive and proactive and remember that nothing matters more than the people you love. For most, it does get easier. But if you feel like you’re really not coping, please seek professional advice.
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