Liam Hehir: How to prevent politics and elections dictating your personal relationships

Liam Hehir: How to prevent politics and elections dictating your personal relationships

Liam Hehir votes National, and his wife votes Labour and Green. In this column he laments the increasingly common practice of limiting your relationship – or even friendship – options to ideological sympaticos, and he reveals the secrets of a successful politically-mixed marriage.


There are few things written more deeply on the human heart than religion. Differences between us on the purpose and ultimate destiny of human existence have sometimes inspired great intolerance and even wars. But what would we make today of a Catholic who refused to countenance a meaningful relationship with a Presbyterian (or vice versa)?

Many people would find that a somewhat extreme form of commitment. “Cult member” might be putting it too strongly but, for many, it would be taken as a sign of zealotry. A person who refused to date outside of their religion would, at any rate, be seen as somebody not in step with modern social expectations.

And yet the question must be asked whether many of us have simply swapped one form of zealotry for another. I was a guest on a radio program recently and one of the topics discussed was relationships across political divides.The ability of most adults to be involved with someone with whom they disagree is something I had taken for granted personally. After all, I am a habitual National voter who has been happily married for eleven years to a habitual Labour and Green voter.

To my surprise, however, it seems that not everyone agrees. For some people, compatible voting intentions are a pre-requisite of a sustainable partnership. Looking at information gathered overseas, however, this appears to be something of a trend.

If you are only interested in limiting your options to ideological sympaticos, read no further. There is nothing for you here and may God help you. For those a bit more broadminded, however, I am now going to reveal the secrets of a successful politically mixed marriage.

First, the answer is “not” about compartmentalising your political life and walling off your interest in it from your domestic life. Instead, you simply need to recognise that, within fairly wide parameters, people will have different views and that’s okay. It does not follow that just because one person thinks a certain mix of the mixed economy is more prudent than another mix that they do so out of pure greed or jealousy.

The next step is an acceptance that you probably won’t change the other person’s minds. This is actually very liberating. Not having an expectation that you can convert somebody to your way of thinking means there is no pressure to attempt it.

The third step is to develop an appreciation for the views of other people as an opportunity to learn something. This applies no matter how flawed you perceive the other opinion to be. In fact, learning more about views with which you do not agree is a good way to refine and examine your own opinions.

Now, to be fair, you probably can’t pull this off if your prospective partner is somebody who never has anything to talk about other than politics. And if you are one of those people then I express my sympathies for your social disability and wish you all the luck in the world. All the best exploring the world of relationships with the smaller proportion of the population who will find you socially tolerable.

For most of us, however, there are sorts of things to do and be interested in that do not touch on or concern politics. You don’t need to be politically compatible to enjoy a day at the zoo together. Or a glass of wine on the deck in the heat of a late-afternoon summer sun. Most people manage to discuss art, literature and popular culture without the need for an argument about public transit policy.

If you’re ever seen The People vs Larry Flynt, you will be aware of the animosity felt by the libertine pornographer and the pharasaical Southern Baptist preacher, Jerry Falwell. It was a rivalry that, as the film depicts, went all the way to the American Supreme Court. Not shown in the movie is the friendship the two developed later in life. On Falwell’s death, Flynt explained it like this:

My mother always told me that no matter how much you dislike a person, when you meet them face to face you will find characteristics about them that you like. Jerry Falwell was a perfect example of that. I hated everything he stood for, but after meeting him in person, years after the trial, Jerry Falwell and I became good friends. He would visit me in California and we would debate together on college campuses. I always appreciated his sincerity even though I knew what he was selling and he knew what I was selling

Now, few people probably find Flynt a particularly agreeable person. It’s a safe bet that even fewer approve of Jerry Falwell these days. But if two people so completely at odds in their worldviews could forge a real connection with each other, what does it say about your refusal to countenance the same?




Liam Hehir lives in the small Manawatu village of Rongotea. He has been a conservative columnist since 2013. He is a practising Catholic and sympathises with the aims of the National Party, for which he formerly volunteered in a variety of low-level roles.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.