It took about two weeks to get started in marriage counseling – Air Force style.
The “counseling” was actually a “couples communication class” which involved an hour of watching videos demonstrating how to effectively communicate and then a half hour with a counselor modeling what you had just seen in the video. This was fall of our first year, about nine months into the marriage. I was a junior in college and had just started back after a one-semester break and I was nearly done with my required classes for my degree in psychology. The “counselor” had perhaps one or two more years of education than me and wasn’t telling me anything I hadn’t learned already, but I tried to be patient and hoped that since it was coming from a third party my Ex would pay attention and not feel picked on and belittled, as always seemed to happen when I talked to him about these concepts.
I generally excused most of his poor communication skills on his terrible upbringing and violent homelife before he met me. Over and over again I would tell myself that I couldn't expect him to understand a loving marriage when he had never seen one in action. The Letters were still at the forefront of my mind as well, but our "counselor" was woefully inadequate at dealing with real issues and limited her role mostly to watching us model communication skills and then she would smile and tell us to have a nice week and "Remember to Love Each Other!!" There was no option for more intensive marital counseling at that time, or at least none that I was in a position to find out about and utilize. I do remember them offering to let us come in on, like, a Tuesday morning at 10am. When I explained that he and I both worked the receptionist said something to me along the lines of "Well, if you really wanted to save your marriage..." Of course, maybe now I would do that, but at the time what I really wanted to do was save myself, and part of that was keeping my job and making sure that I was in school. I was already preparing for a future that I thought might eventually find me on my own.
At any rate, perhaps the most entertaining part of couples counseling was “The Floor.” The Floor was a small magnetic square, about 3x3 inches, that was supposed to represent who had “the floor” in a discussion. The person holding The Floor was allowed to speak, while the other person would then mirror what the first person had said. So, if I was holding The Floor I would say “It really pisses me off when you don’t call when you’re going to be several hours late coming home.” Then, my Ex would say “What I hear you saying is that you’re hurt that I don’t call when I’m going to be late.” Of course, that’s only what he would say in front of the counselor. At home, The Floor mostly stayed stuck to the fridge, holding up a Chinese take-out menu, and reminding me of what a failure I had become. The couple of times we tried to use it I was accused of lording my superior education over my husband and trying to make him feel stupid.
The funniest fight we ever had involved The Floor. Our homework from couples counseling was to have a discussion about something that we couldn’t agree on, and to use The Floor and the techniques the counselor had taught us, and then report back the next week on how it had gone. This is how it went.
Me: **clutching The Floor and praying this wouldn’t escalate into a horrible altercation** “I’m upset that even though we have so many bills and I still have to pay my tuition for this semester, you went out and bought a dirtbike with money from our joint savings account.”
Him: “What I hear you saying is that I’m not allowed to spend the money that I make and I have to give it all to you for your school and books.”
Me: “No. It’s just that we owe so much money all over the place and I’m worried that we are getting in over our heads. Plus, the dirtbike is something you do by yourself and I wish you would spend more time at home with me.”
Him: “OK, so now you’re pissed that I’m spending money and that I’m having fun without you. Maybe if you ever wanted to do anything fun I wouldn’t have to do everything by myself or with my friends.”
Me: “You know what, maybe we shouldn’t even bother with this discussion. School is important to me and clearly we’re not going to get anywhere with this tonight...I’ll just pay the tuition from my paycheck and you’ll have to find a way to pay some bills this month.”
Him: “Fuck you. Seriously, why are such a fucking bitch?”
Me: “Don’t you dare cuss at me like that! You have no right to cuss at me!”
Him: “OH YEAH RIGHT, like ‘fuck’ is a cuss word!!”
Me: “Ummm...fuck IS a cuss word, you don’t have to be in college to know that!”
Him: “Why don’t you just shut up. You’re always talking fast and trying to confuse me!!”
Me: **throw The Floor on the floor and stomp off to bedroom to cry and feel sorry for myself**
Him: **Stomp outside to go somewhere in his truck and not come home until 3am**
So, needless to say, couples communication wasn’t working too well, and sadly, during my second marriage I would revisit Air Force marriage counseling again, only this time with a cardboard The Floor instead of a magnetic one.
Eventually things died down and life returned pretty much to "normal." I went to school and worked pretty much all the time. He worked and got a second job working at Best Buy under the auspices of needing his own money so that he could “do fun stuff" and “buy me presents” without me knowing. Interestingly, I never got one single present that wasn’t charged to my own credit card, so I’m not entirely sure how the $300 Oakley’s benefited me, but I guess I just didn’t get it.
Before I knew it, fall had turned to winter, we’d had our first snow of the year, Christmas break at school was almost upon me, and our one-year anniversary was only about a month away (we had gotten married two days before Christmas). I frantically tried to prepare for Christmas, the anniversary and finals at school while juggling work and the house and everything else we had going on. The Ex made himself scarce and one day, having reached my absolute limit, I went looking for him only to find him sitting in his friend’s dorm room on base watching porn movies with a bunch of other guys, drinking and laughing about what a bunch of sluts and whores the women were and comparing them to the women in their squadron at work. It was the last time I bothered to go looking. And, just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The phone rang somewhere right around Thanksgiving and when I picked it up I heard my mom say “Guess what honey? Your dad and I are coming out for Christmas!!”