Saving a Marriage


Prof. Dietrich Fischer – TRANSCEND Media Service

A true mediation history from Johan Galtung

An Italian husband was fitting bathrooms with tiles for a living, while his wife, who was eight years younger, stayed home and took care of the household. Her main concern was her security in old age. Since Italian women live on average eight years longer than men, she expected to outlive her husband by about sixteen years.

But his preference after working for 40 years was to spend some hours after work in the evening drinking a glass of wine and discussing with his friends at the local pub. She complained that he had stopped working overtime. He told her that she had no idea how difficult it was to fit the last tiles behind a toilet or bathtub, that his shoulders were aching, and that after many years of hard work he deserved to spend some time with his friends in the evening. The tension slowly escalated.

One evening, in a fit of anger, she called him impotent. He felt deeply hurt and hit her in revenge. She screamed and called the police. The police told her husband that if he ever did this again, he would spend half a year in prison. At this point, through a friend of a friend, Johan was called to mediate, maybe in the malicious joy that this was a conflict that even he could not solve, or in the faint hope that there may yet be some solution.

Johan carefully listened to the wife’s legitimate concern for financial security in her old age, and the husband’s legitimate wish to suffer less strain and to have some fun with his friends in the evening after working all day. He also felt that the wife had a great deal of free time which she could use in some income-generating activity. But the patriarchal model, which neither he nor she questioned, demanded that the husband work outside of the house earning money, and the wife stay home taking care of the household.

So Johan proposed to break out of that mental jail, suggesting that they operate a bar together, and divide the income equally. At first, the husband demanded that he get two thirds, and his wife only one third of their profits. But Johan was firm and insisted that they split their income equally, even though conventional wisdom maintains that a mediator should let the conflict parties arrive themselves at an agreement, and not influence the outcome.

They agreed to operate the bar together and divide the income in half. This gave the husband an opportunity to spend time with his friends who visited the bar after work, and his wife to use her time more productively, chat with the customers, and set aside some savings for her old age, and it gave both the chance to cooperate together.

They are still happily married, and the bar is a success.


Dietrich Fischer (1941-2015) from Münsingen, Switzerland, got a Licentiate in Mathematics from the University of Bern 1968 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from New York University 1976. 1986-88 he was a MacArthur Fellow in International Peace and Security at Princeton University. He has taught mathematics, computer science, economics and peace studies at various universities and been a consultant to the United Nations. He was co-founder, with Johan Galtung, of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment in 1993.

Excerpted from Dietrich Fischer’s Stories to Inspire You – TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 3 Jul 2017.

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