Long distance relationships can be the ultimate test for couples. Disruptions to family life, parenting challenges, missing each other and then adjusting to be together again are just a few of the difficulties Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) families face.
The choice to become FIFO is not an easy one as career opportunities and attractive wages are balanced against disruptions to relationship and family life. FIFO workers often take a career-defining role for increased pay, or more exposure to an area of interest. At times, these choices can lead to personal sacrifices, and a range of emotional health impacts for you and your partner.
FIFO relationship statistics can be tough to look at—around one-third of partners experience psychological distress, and the same portion also experience burnout.
There can be mental health impacts for FIFO workers and their partners and this can include:
- home sickness
- doubt and guilt about leaving the family
- no sense of belonging whilst away from the family
- resentment and stress for the partner who is single parenting for half of the year
- emotional disconnection from your partner
But for many couples, a long distance relationship is the start of a much more connected and fruitful relationship, where you learn to grow individually and as a couple. This long distance relationship advice will help you and your partner through those tough times, and lead to a brighter future together.
Maximise Your Communication
It might sound obvious, but communication is essential in all relationships, let alone one where regular separation over distance is a key feature.
In this digitally connected age, there is a range of positive steps and strategies to stay in touch and communicate effectively. From scheduled phone calls, to shared movie nights, it is crucial that you agree on time to communicate effectively and stick to your agreements.
For anyone in relationship, expressing our needs and wants clearly is important if we have any chance of getting them met. Having a partner away regularly can add the barriers of distance and tiredness to effective communication. Making time each week to check in on your relationship by having a “State of our union meeting” is a practical way to work through any issues, appreciate your partner and to clear away any unfinished business before the next week starts.
Acknowledge each others experience (especially when it is different!)
When you’re in a long distance relationship both peoples experience will be very different. For the home partner, it is hard doing the practicalities of work and/or family life on your own. Being able to hear how it is for your partner by acknowledging their feelings without having to defend your work choices or feel you have to fix it for them is a critical component of emotional connection.
For the away partner, the monotony and tiredness of long working days can feel isolating from your partner, family and greater society. Work relationships can become important as they are the people you work and live around for many months of the year, at times you may feel like these people understand you better and are more important than your partner and children.
Letting your partner know what you appreciate about them is another way of feeling connected across the distance and when you are together again. Try the “3 x I Appreciates” activity at least once a week. This is a time for each of you to give a specific “I Appreciate” to each other. You alternate giving the “I appreciate”until you have each said 3 to the other person. Keep them specific, they are much more meaningful this way. Here are some examples:
Instead of saying , “I appreciate you being kind” say “I appreciate you listening to me the other day and being kind in how you spoke to me”.
Instead of saying, “I appreciate you pulling your weight around the house” say “I appreciate that you picked up all the clothes and put the washing on yesterday”.
Instead of saying, “I appreciate your help with the kids in the night” say “I appreciate that you bathed and read the kids their bedtime story when you are home”.
Support Your Partner’s Growth
In a healthy relationship there will always be individual interests and personal growth for each person. Be curious and interested in your partner, talk to them about what they are doing, how are they feeling about this, what is the best thing about what they are doing? Your partner will feel acknowledged and supported by your interest in what they are doing.
- In any relationship we need boundaries. Some people are good at being able to state their boundary, while others can really find this hard. Learning how to set boundaries is possible, some examples of a boundary are: Saying no to things you don’t want to do
- Asking for help when you need it
- Avoiding overcommitting to more than you can do
Allow time to transition back to family life
How the away partner transitions back into the family life each time can set up how the family time will go that round of FIFO. It is important for both people to recognise that each of you will need some transition time form work and parenting alone to being together again in the complete family unit.
Start the “transition back to home” the day before the flight home, talk on the phone together about what each of you are wanting or needing in the first 24-48hrs together. Be open to compromise and acknowledge the difference for each of you when you first join together again. Are you doing an airport pick up? Will any children be present then? What is important about the greeting when the away partner walks into the home?(if there is no airport pickup) what is the most critical item the home partner needs help with on the first day/evening home?
For the away partner, consider having some quiet time on the flight home to start and get back into your partner/dad/family role. For the home partner imagine how you would want to be greeted back into the family after being away, make some space for this to happen.
One area that many busy relationships can struggle with is intimacy. While intimacy can be emotional, intellectual or experiential, sexual intimacy is the more obvious area to be affected in FIFO relationships.
Physical touching is an essential part of being human and feeling connected. So when this is regularly interrupted couples do need to prioritise other forms of intimacy. This can include having some interesting and meaningful conversations. Download the Gottman Card Decks app from your app store to get some great ideas on open ended questions, conversation starters and spicing up sexual intimacy.
For more information on relationships and communication
Contact Deborah Wright to make an appointment