Holiday Horror Stories: Joyce

Coming Unwrapped at Christmas

"My wife, Joyce, hates the holidays so much, she ruins it for our whole family," complains Rick.  

Joyce admits that she can be a Scrooge. "I have hated Christmas for the past 26 years. I hate lights, I hate trees. I hate family holiday dinners. If it's associated with Christmas, I hate it!" she says. "I hate to hear people singing Christmas carols because they're happy and I'm not."


Rick and Joyce have been married for 27 years. On their first Christmas, Rick made the mistake of buying a shirt that Joyce hated. "I was so cotton-picking mad at him for buying me that, that I took it back. Rick has never bought me another Christmas gift," Joyce says. "I have hated Christmas from that day forward." 

Rick gives an example of what happened the last time Joyce tried to get in the spirit. "Last Christmas, Joyce and I had a tree. It went up a few days before Christmas with a lot of anger," he recalls. "The tree came down Christmas morning at 6:00 a.m."

Their daughter, Jenna, feels that Joyce always puts a damper on her holiday mood. "I have four children. When my children open their gifts, my mom tries to act excited, but I can tell that she's not," she says. "I hate for my kids to see her that way."

Joyce realizes that her ways are taking a toll on her marriage. "Rick and I argue every day from Thanksgiving until after the New Year. Every holiday season, I contemplate leaving Rick," she says. "I would have never married Rick if I had known that he was going to shove Christmas down my throat every year."
"Why do you think you feel this way?" Dr. Phil asks Joyce. 

"I think it's his fault," she replies. "I know that I hurt him 26 years ago when I returned the outfit that he bought me."

"That was 26 years ago," Dr. Phil reminds her.

Joyce responds, "I know. He needs to get over it."

"He does?" Dr. Phil asks incredulously. "You're the one who's coming unwrapped here. Seriously, I know a lot of people who find Christmas to be a painful time of year. It's usually because they've lost a loved one, or something terrible happened at Christmas some time ago. But [Rick] buying you an ugly shirt doesn't really rise to the level of being down on Christmas for 26 years!"

Joyce stands her ground. "But he made me that way. It's his fault!"

Rick adds his thoughts. "I did tell her that I wouldn't buy her anything else. It was a pretty painful event for me. I spent a lot of money," he tells Dr. Phil. "At the time, I was trying to do the right thing. I came home, and it was like, ‘That's the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life. I can't believe you'd buy me something like that.'"

Dr. Phil turns to his wife, Robin. "Have I ever bought you an article of clothing that you were actually seen outside the house in?"

'"Yes," she says with a smile.

"I bought her a coat one time that she put on for, like, three years, and would wear it to the front porch, take it off, put something else on and leave," he jokes. Turning to Joyce, he says, "Did you like Christmas before this happened?"

Joyce answers, "I did. I really did."

"So, he bought you an ugly shirt and ruined Christmas for you for 26 years?" Dr. Phil muses. "Does that seem reasonable to you?"

"It's not me. I could get into Christmas, I think, if he would cooperate a little bit," Joyce says.

"What is it you'd like him to do? Go cut down someone else's tree?" Dr. Phil asks.  

"No, we don't need a Christmas tree when they're all over the neighborhood, and I'm paying a high power bill," she says.

"What did this outfit cost?" Dr. Phil asks Rick. 

"About $300," Rick says. "That was 27 years ago. That was a lot of money."

"So, you got your feelings hurt," Dr. Phil sympathizes. "And you said, ‘I'll never buy you another present.' So, in 26 years, you've never bought her another present?"

Joyce chimes in, "No, and I asked for one thing, specifically ... A diamond ring. Do you know what he did? ‘Here, take the money. You go buy it. I'll never buy you that ring.'"

Rick clarifies. "Over the years, I've tried to take our daughter and let her buy her some presents. She actually returned things my daughter gave her, when she was 8 or 9 years old."

Dr. Phil wants Joyce to understand the true spirit of the season. "Whatever level you define this " whether it's a religious observance for you, whether it's a family observance for you, whether it's just a celebration of the season and music and cooking " isn't this a time that is all about sharing and giving?"

"I give, but nobody shares with me," Joyce complains.

Dr. Phil tries another tack. "Was he not well-intentioned when he bought you that [shirt]?" he asks Joyce. 

"Maybe he was thinking about his mother," she quips. "He doesn't have to buy me clothes. He knows I like diamonds."

"That's not what I'm talking about. We're talking about the fact that for 26 years, you've been ruining everybody's Christmas season by pouting about something you didn't like 26 years ago," Dr. Phil says sternly. "Instead of sitting there saying, ‘What can you do to please me?' why aren't you saying, ‘What can I do to light things up for my daughter and my husband and my grandkids?'"

"I do," Joyce says. 

Dr. Phil takes her to task. "You don't like singing Christmas carols. You don't like people coming over for dinner. You don't like decorations. You don't like the kids getting excited about Christmas. It's all about you."

"I can't sing," Joyce protests.

"Yeah, you sing at Christmas," Dr. Phil says cynically. To the tune of "Jingle Bells," he sings, "‘Me, me, me. Me, me, me. Me, me, me, me, me!'"

Dr. Phil turns to Joyce's daughter, Jenna in the audience. "What do you think is going on here?" he asks.

"I don't really know what's going on with her," Jenna replies. "We do try to make Christmas enjoyable for her, but she just won't accept it, whatever we do." 

Addressing Joyce, Dr. Phil asks, "Why did you come here today?"


"Because I need to know what I need to do to be able to accept a gift," she answers. "What have I got to do to make things right at my house around Christmastime?"

"Get over yourself," Dr. Phil suggests. He explains that Joyce may be suffering from anniversary phenomenon. "If you had a bad accident on July 17, every July 17, it brings back some fear and some pain. It's kind of like a little residual Post Traumatic kind of thing," he explains. "Usually, the trigger for that anniversary phenomenon is a little higher than an ugly shirt, but it seems like that was a painful thing for you. You felt dishonored. You felt insulted."

"I didn't mean any disrespect toward him at all. I didn't like it, so I needed to take it back," Joyce says. 

"You teach people how to treat you," Dr. Phil tells Joyce. "You teach people that trying to do for you is painful, and you judge it, and that's not OK. If you don't like what they buy you, you make a list. If you want to make this about what you receive at Christmas " instead of family unity, and sharing and caring all of that " if you want to make this about presents, then make a list."

When Joyce maintains that she doesn't know how to receive a present without complaining, Dr. Phil says, "The by-word you need to follow is graciousness. When you receive something, be gracious about it ... You do it by focusing on something positive about it."

Dr. Phil advises Joyce to decorate her house for Christmas. She concedes, but says she'll only do so if Rick helps.


"When you get your electric bill, you just put it in an envelope and send it to me," Dr. Phil tells Joyce with a smile.