FIFO Focus Director Sandra Lam joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.
In part 35, Sandra talks to Big Al about creating safe relationships for FIFO workers and their partners.
Safety in Relationships – how to support it
We enter relationships mainly because we want companionship, to feel loved or to be special to someone. For all these reasons to occur, we need to feel safe talking to our partner about all your hopes, dreams and fears. Safety in a relationship in non-negotiable and is arguably the key factor that keeps people together.
But oftentimes, we forget this, or don’t actively work on it. Before you know it, you’ve grown apart because you don’t feel comfortable and safe enough to talk about all the things you hope you could with your partner.
There are many ways in which we can create safe relationships. For this segment, we will talk about the things you can do regularly, to help you create safe interactions that facilitates intimate connectedness. We hope you will try it and let us know how you go.
Learning to communicate
The basis for the process is to learn how to talk (and not just to listen). In the case of a FIFO relationship where the distance is a challenge, being able to regularly have safe conversations on the phone (or other audio-visual technology) is critical.
So here is the three steps process.
1. Check availability
In a FIFO relationship, sometimes our interactions become transactional and deals with the day to day goings on in the household. Common topics include how the kids or work is going and whether there are house or car issues. There is nothing wrong with this and often (hopefully), things are generally ok or minor. It is like a routine check-up. There are times however, where more than a routine check-up is necessary, requiring our partner to listen and to be fully present. Herein lies the problem. Our partner is often not expecting it and may not be ready to give you their full, undivided attention, especially after a long day.
So how do we make this conversation safe? Quite simply, you ask. When you want to have a deeper conversation, whether to vent your feelings, to describe a bad experience, or to ask for help and advice, ask if they are available to chat. This indicates you need more than a daily check-up and need to enter your safe zones. Ask if it’s a good time and if not, call them back when it is. This will allow the partner to get into the right mindset and be fully present.
2. Zero negativity
Sometimes we say things that were never intended to sound negative but can be received as being judgemental by your partner. As an example, if someone has caused your partner discomfort, it’s easy to say “Why do you hang around that person if they are so nasty to you?” When we say something like this, it is often not directed at your partner but it may be the only mechanism you can offer to protect your partner from further pain – the only solution that you can provide from a distance.
The problem is in the thick of an emotional imbalance, words like this can be received as an attack. Instead, say something reassuring that taps into fears – like “I know you’re a great parent. It’s sad that this other person isn’t capable of seeing it but I do.”
Why should we do this? Because put-downs drive your partner into defensive mode rather than feeling better after talking to you about the situation they’ve just experienced. So now you have to deal with the defensiveness emotion PLUS them not feeling any better about their day. Double whammy!
Remember that being in a safe relationship means also accepting their differences of opinions. Your partner’s opinions don’t have to be the same as yours but they are still entitled to them so don’t make them feel bad because they are different to yours. Acceptance does not mean agreement and it’s the acceptance component that creates true psychological safety.
3. Give appreciation
One of the most common reasons for relationship falling apart is not feeling appreciated. This is rarely intentional – it’s just life. After a period of time, we take a lot of things for granted (it’s why this whole gratitude movement is successful) but when it comes to your relationship, it’s not something you want to risk. My partner’s brother once said, “Relationship can be like a blanket, if you just tie two bits of fabric together they can pull apart easily and all at once, but if you think of a quilt, it is made up of thousands of tiny stitches, it is much stronger and one little rip won’t ruin the blanket. You’ve got to keep putting the little stitches in all the time and not rely on one off grand gestures to keep a relationship strong.” I love this piece of advice.
So, find something positive that your partner does, however small it may seem and thank your partner as often as possible. Don’t make a general statement, be specific. Keep sewing those tiny stitches. It will alter your brain pathways to look at your partner in a non-negative, transactional-only way and you will associate your relationship as worthwhile, enjoyable and most definitely, safe.