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Ask Dr. Helen: Men Who Give Too Much (Including Internal Organs)

Giving your wife an expensive gift — even a kidney — to save your marriage will never work.

by
Helen Smith

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January 9, 2009 - 12:26 am

In my work as a psychologist, I have often dealt with men going through, or just out of, a divorce. Many have been so devastated when the marriage was floundering or over that they gave their wife everything that they had or left her with the house, the kids, or, in this case, a kidney:

A New York doctor is demanding that his estranged wife pay him $1.5 million to compensate him for the kidney he gave her while they were still on good terms.

Dr. Richard Batista spoke Wednesday to reporters at his lawyer’s office in Garden City, Long Island.

He said he gave his kidney to Dawnell Batista in June 2001. She filed for divorce in July 2005.

Richard Batista wants his estranged wife to pay a heavy price for cheating on him and destroying their marriage, reports the Daily News.

“She slapped me with divorce papers when I was in surgery trying to save another person’s life,” the doctor said, according to the newspaper.

The 49-year-old Batista works for Nassau University Medical Center. The couple have three children, ages, 8, 11 and 14.

It appears, according to one news source (in video), that the Batistas’ marriage was not going so well at the time Batista gave his wife a kidney. In order to save her life and the marriage, he did what he thought was the right thing. Maybe it was. But perhaps he did it for the wrong reason. Maybe he used his kidney as a tool to get his marriage back on track — just like many men who buy their wives a fur, jewelry, or a house try and “save the marriage.” Guess what? It never works.

If you look around the blogosphere or media, you will see the kidney story treated naively as an ethical question or framed as simple revenge or even a publicity stunt. For example, at Newsday.com, votes were taken asking, “Is it fair for the husband to demand a donated kidney from his wife?” Most people voted “No, and it’s unethical, Don’t toy with human life” or “No, it’s vindictive. People fall out of love.”

Legal analyst Lisa Bloom for CBS’ The Early Show even goes as far to say that Batista did it as a publicity stunt:

It’s a touching tale and one that has been met with ridicule from area divorce attorneys.

“She ripped out his heart, but he doesn’t get to rip out her kidney,” says Lisa Bloom, a legal analyst for CBS’ The Early Show.

Calling this a publicity stunt by the scorned husband, Dr. Richard Batista, Bloom says there is absolutely no chance his soon-to-be ex-wife, Dawnell, will have to give her new kidney back.

“He wants his pound of flesh,” Bloom said, but “he’s not going to get it by way of the kidney.”

In my mind, these reasons are too simplistic. I think the reason he wants his kidney back is psychological and emotionally complex — reasons that are rarely ascribed to men since our society doesn’t think of them as emotionally complex as women. Is it possible that some men give in too much in their marriage and try so hard to make it work (much like the women of yesteryear) that they are now angry and resentful and in need of assertiveness training? Kind of like a reverse Women Who Love Too Much?

Maybe so — at least, it seemed that way when I took a look at the video of Batista talking about what happened. I realized that much of his anguish was because he was trying to understand why he had let himself be taken advantage of by a woman and how ill-prepared he was to deal with the feelings of betrayal and rejection that followed as part of his gift. His anger toward himself for doing so may be behind his need to receive payment or get something back, to make himself feel right again for having been naive enough to think that using a kidney to mend a marriage would work.

So, what can men learn from the kidney case? If your marriage is floundering, beware of using any kind of gift — even a kidney — to win her back. If you want to be altruistic and donate something as precious as an organ to a spouse, do so freely.  But don’t do it because you want her back. Understand your motives. And never, ever give gifts to someone who is thinking of leaving you, doesn’t want you, or treats you like crap, as a way to make them change or stay — it will never work.

Have you ever given gifts or something precious to a girlfriend or wife in the hopes of winning her back or do you know someone who did? If so, drop a comment below and let us know what happened.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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