By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Q: My mining man and I have been dating for a few months. He has been in the mining industry for a while so is quite used to it. I however am really struggling with the distance, the day shifts/night shifts and the competing priorities for his time when he's home. Due to Wi-Fi issues, we also have less than 10 minutes a day to communicate. My boyfriend is supportive and says it will get easier, but I'm starting to feel like he's merely a figment of my imagination. Help me!
A: Hi and thanks for your email.
Firstly, it’s great to hear that your boyfriend is supportive – that’s a great start!
Getting used to someone you love working away is tricky to say the least, especially if you haven’t had this sort of relationship before. So, I guess hearing him say that "things will get better" isn’t really helpful for you (if you can’t see how things will get better).
There are two issues here: 1) how time is spent when he’s home; and 2) how to stay connected when he is away.
Firstly, how home time is spent is one of the challenges that lots of couples have when one person works away. There are no easy answers to this one, but here are some general tips:
- Have a talk about each other’s priorities when he’s home.
- Work together on an agreement of days/evenings that are just for each other. It can be frustrating for us 9-5 workers to understand that all appointments etc. have to be done in the FIFO worker’s time at home, but that’s just the way it is. I know that FIFO workers get annoyed about that too! Some partners take an occasional day of leave so they can spend the day just hanging out.
- Ask your boyfriend to consider keeping in contact with his friends and family by phone, email and text while he’s away. In my experience a lot of guys don’t do this, and this adds to the pressure to cram everyone in during their break.
Now, regarding the communication issue, here are some tips that have helped other couples:
- Look for different ways of staying connected and staying in contact, and don’t just rely on mobile phones. If possible send letters, cards and presents by regular mail; pack little notes or presents in his bag; agree to think about each other at exactly the same time each day; watch the same movie or TV series or read the same book.
- Plan ahead for things to do together in the future. Book a weekend away (or a longer holiday if possible); plan a party; plan to go and see a movie you both want to see.
- Accept that the short communication won’t be great for either of you, so avoid any difficult conversations or issues that might cause disagreement during that 10-minute chat! If it’s really not working well, just agree to talk every second day.
- Keep talking about what is going well for you and what is not working well for you and re-visit this often as a couple.
Mining Family Matters aims to break down the barriers of isolation and the stresses of living away from family and friends. Although this website provides general advice from a psychologist and practical tips from mining families, the content should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. Always speak to your doctor or specialist provider for advice on a specific medical condition. If you are depressed and require urgent assistance, call 9-1-1 or visit the Canadian Mental Health Association website at www.cmha.ca.
Angie Willcocks is a registered psychologist with a private practice in Adelaide, Australia. She’s an expert in tackling issues such as depression, anxiety, postnatal depression, child sleep routines and relationship difficulties. She has a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Psychology and a Masters of Counselling Psychology. She is also the co-author of The Sensible Sleep Solution: a guide to sleep in your baby’s first year, which can be ordered from her website www.angiewillcocks.com.