A Shopping Intervention: Bridgette

A Shopping Intervention: Bridgette

"My wife's spending is out of control," complains Michael. Giving a tour of Bridgette's closet, he says, "My wife buys a lot of clothes. She doesn't even wear the stuff. Here are just shoeboxes filled with shoes that have never been used, never been worn."

Bridgette admits that she has a problem. "I have spent up to $12,000 in a month shopping," she confesses. "I can't go into any store without buying something."

Among her expenditures are beds for her dog that cost several hundred dollars a piece, a new computer for $3,800, new furniture totaling nearly $12,000, and a new kitche
n. Her purchases add up to trouble. "We owe about $80,000 in credit card debt," she says. "Michael will open up a bill, and he'll go crazy. He'll say, 'This f**king bill — it's $6,000.' I just will go into another room out of shame."

Michael is starting to feel the physical effects of the stress caused by his wife's spending, such as insomnia and panic attacks. "I feel like I'm being buried alive. I can't breathe. I have to get up and go to an open window and breathe cold air," he says.

Bridgette won't consider going on a budget. Michael says that she'll say, "'I'm just going to spend, and you will make it. You're a doctor. You'll make it.' She just thinks of me as some kind of a money manufacturer. I feel like I'm slowly going under like a frog with a weight around its foot, getting dragged down," Michael mourns. "I'm trying to keep my head above water, and it's becoming really, really difficult."

"If you will, no kidding, listen to me, this can be a changing day in your life. But we have to have a deal," Dr. Phil tells the couple. Addressing Bridgette, he says, "Are you here to defend this, cover this, hide this, kind of diffuse this, or are you here to change it?"

"I'm here to make a definite change. I have to change," she replies.

Dr. Phil refutes this. "I don't see any sense in your pattern of doing this that suggests a readiness on your part to change."

"I have to change. I want to change," Bridgette insists. "It's affecting my marriage. It's affecting my children. It's affecting me."

Dr. Phil runs down a list of Bridgette's expenses. "You're spending $12,000 to $15,000 a month. You've got $80,000 in credit card debt. You spent $25,000 in a weekend. You got 24 dog outfits, and you've painted the dog's toenails," he says. "Is there any theory under which you think these things are things that you really need, or that you even value?"

"I don't know why I do this," she admits. "I think it's like a compulsion I get, and I just have to go out and do it."

Turning to Michael, Dr. Phil says, "Why haven't you stopped this?"

"I have tried to stop it many times," he replies.

"I didn't ask you why you hadn't 'tried' to stop it. I said, why haven't you stopped it," Dr. Phil clarifies. "Because you are an intelligent guy. You know how to stop this. You can go to a strict cash environment. You could do whatever you have to do where she doesn't have the ability to spend this money. If she were a drug addict, you would do things to stop her from having access to the drugs, right?" 

Michael says there is an underlying cause for his reluctance to curtail Bridgette's spending. "I don't like it, but it validates my worth as a doctor, as a provider," he says. "I don't think I've been much of a family man. I don't think I've been there for my kids an awful lot, physically or emotionally. I do love what I do. I just do it too damn much," he says. "I have a willingness, obviously, to pay these bills, and I take a certain amount of pride in being able to pay off the debt. But her debt has escalated over the past six months to a point where working — almost dangerously too much — has not been adequate to pay the bills."

Dr. Phil plays a video clip to illustrate  what goes through Bridgette's mind as she shops: "When I walk in a mall, I feel, like, a buzzing sensation, I'm like, 'Wow, I'm going to hit as many stores as I can possibly hit, because I want to see everything.' I feel high. I'm like ready to go. I'm on a mission. You can see it in my eyes, that I feel like they're dilated. My mind is very, very sick. I was in this jewelry store for eight hours, and the high that I had in that store was amazing. My salesman, he just kept bringing jewelry out, and bringing stuff out of the back. The whole store was just surrounded with gold and diamonds, and I was just on a natural high. The total bill was about $25,000."

She also shows off her extensive collection for her dog. "This is Sophie's dog collection. This makes me happy to buy. She has a little hat. I think this is the coolest, funniest hat. And she has a Playboy Bunny crystal leash, $180. It has Austrian crystals on it, and it matches what she's wearing now. This is her doggy stroller. The stroller was $120. I bought the dog stroller because I can put her in it and take her through the mall."

"Do you think this can change?" Dr. Phil asks Michael.

"Yes, I do. I think it can change. I think my wife's willingness for it to change is, obviously, the most important thing. I would like it to change," he replies. "Bridgette understands that she has an addiction. She wants to change; we're just not sure how to enact that. I don't want to stop paying my bills. I don't want to ruin my credit. I don't want to lose my house."

"Why did you write me?"

"I wrote you because Bridgette and I, but mostly importantly, Bridgette, has tremendous respect for you," Michael says. "If anybody could help her, if she'd listen to anybody, it'd be you."

Dr. Phil doesn't buy Bridgette labeling herself as a shopping "addict." He tells her, "You are a full-grown, mature, intelligent woman, capable of making conscious choices. And I think all of this shopping — whether you call it an addiction, a compulsion, a pattern, a habit, whatever — I think it is a symptom of the situation."

Dr. Phil reads Bridgette's reasoning for shopping: "'I want to punish him for yelling at me, so I go and buy more."

"That's true."

"That's not an addiction. An addiction is an irresistible impulse," he differentiates. "That doesn't sound like an addiction. It sounds to me like you are pissed off, and you want to whoop his ass. And you know that money is important to him."

"That's been the problem in our relationship, is it's always been about money," Bridgette explains. "He's always been a workaholic. He's never spent."

"So that's his currency. So that's how you blast him," Dr. Phil says. "You also said that you just walk away, or just say just, 'F-off, buddy. Talk to the finger.'"

"Yes. I do," she says. "We have been through a lot. My family has been through quite a bit. I mean, my husband, in the past was in recovery 10 years. And I have been through the ringer."

"I'm not saying that you can't make a great case for him being absent, uninvolved, loving you with money," Dr. Phil says.

"What did your mother say on her death bed?" Dr. Phil asks Michael.

"My mother said, 'I had a lousy life,' which still hurts me like a knife in my heart. And I didn't really understand that, but over the years — it's been about 15 years — I think she meant, in one sense, that she never met her potential," Michael explains. "And I think Bridgette has tremendous potential. She's great with people. She has some real skills, and I would offer as a solution that she get a job."

Dr. Phil disagrees with Michael's solution. "I think you're totally wrong," he says. "Not that a job wouldn't be good for anybody to be
productive and use their skills and abilities and God-given traits and characteristics ... I just said that your entire relationship is filled with resentment, bitterness, and guilt, and you said, 'Well, maybe she needs to get a job.'"

Michael defends his position. "Some of her shopping may be from boredom, and I just think that there has to be a reason. When you shop, you're filling a void."

Bridgette chimes in, "I could find a million things to do at home."

"So your shopping is just about getting back at me," Michael counters, "for having lost everything 10 years ago?"

"No, it's not about that."

"Which I got back. It's easy to get back stuff. To become a person, and to really show love, and express love, is what I want us to do. I want to work less. I want to be home more. And I want you to help me. Help me help you," he pleads with his wife.