FIFO Life Part 45: Three pillars of successful relationships

FIFO Focus Director Sandra Lam joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.

In part 45, Sandra talks to Big Al about the three pillars of successful relationships that FIFO couples should work on.

The Three Pillars of Successful Relationships

I posted a question on our social media pages asking our followers what they considered to be the three pillars of successful relationships. Of course, pretty much every single one of them said communication, followed by trust and respect. These dimensions are important of course but in which areas of life they were developed, is equally important.

You see, 40 years of psychological research has determined that there are three pillars of successful relationships. As a couple, we need to work on each of these domains in order to feel a strong sense of stability, unwavering emotional support and a deep connection to our partner. In a FIFO relationship, it can be very easy to neglect or mismanage one and oftentimes, two of these pillars:

1. Friendship
2. Constructive Conflict
3. Shared meaning

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So what do we mean by each of these?


Quite simply, friendship is about understanding the psychological world of your partner. Most relationships start here. Think back to when you first met. You were interested to know what made your now partner tick. You asked open questions, you remembered their answers and in your mind, you were trying to understand your partner so you could impress them by doing things you knew they enjoyed. The beginning of relationships are the best because it is usually at that point, you felt that someone was deeply interested in you. Everything about you. Your interests, your thoughts, your ideas, your views. That’s what friendships are about.

Fast forward to now, and I ask you, do you know who your partner’s two best friend are? What is their favourite colour and favourite drinks now? Are you sure? It’s quite probable that what they like now may not be the same as what they liked when you first met. Do you know what stresses are facing them in the immediate future? What is their favourite way to relax and unwind?

Being a friend means when they place themselves in a new situation, you look for the positives to feedback to them rather than looking for what’s going wrong so you can help them fix it. Think about it – your best friend (second to your partner) just did something new. What do you say to them afterwards? Do you support your partner in the same way?

So, when it’s R & R and you’ve decided to go on a date night, think about your friendship pillar and use it to reacquaint yourself with your partner’s inner world. Don’t waste it by talking about the day-to-day transactional stuff. You can do that tomorrow.

Constructive Conflict 

I’ve met couples who didn’t believe in conflict and never have conflict. This is great as long as they aren’t just refraining from conflict because they see it as a bad thing or bad for a relationship. Quite simply, conflicts are not bad. It means there is a standard that hasn’t been met and it’s important enough for that person to raise it with their partner. The way these “objections” are expressed and handled is what determines the health of the relationship. This is why the constructive conflict pillar is so important because it is during this process that, if done with the right mindset, you learn a lot more about your partner that others may not.

The goal of conflict management is to understand the other person’s point of view. It should not be to get your own way. Conflicts simmer down when the other person feels heard so constructive conflict should be more of an investigative rather than an argumentative process. Everyone has a difference of opinions that normally stem from beliefs that experiences that you may not be privy to so use conflicts as another way to find out the pressure points of your partner and an opportunity to express yours. During this pillar, communication is significantly tested and is where most relationships can trip up. So much so that there are entire courses that teach couples how to communicate under conflict. Next week, we will go into the 4 killers of relationships and generally, they stem from within this pillar so don’t forget to visit again.

Shared meaning and purpose

Shared meaning are the dreams you have as a couple about your future but it first starts with understanding what some common things mean to both of you as individuals. What does “home” mean to you? What does a successful family life look like? What is the meaning of “husband” and “wife”? What did these things mean when you were growing up? What goals do you have an individuals and as a couple?

Shared meaning in FIFO relationships is critical. A FIFO family sacrifices time with their loved ones to do it so it’s pretty important to know what you are aiming for and extends to what you want your children to grow up to become (if kids are in or will be in the picture). Share meaning also means understanding each other’s hope and dreams. Knowing your partner’s life goals means you will have clarity on why they do the things they do.

I’ve asked my partner about his goal in life before. Being a mining engineer, I thought he would answer saying “I want to be a CEO of a mining company” but to my surprise he said, “I want to be the best Dad I can be”. This completely changed the way I saw things. Everything made more sense. The peak of all relationships is to know and honour your partner’s dream and wouldn’t it be awesome knowing that that’s what your partner aims to do because you matter that much?

The content in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend consulting with a registered health practitioner or contacting us for more tailored support.

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