The Argument Hangover

Jocelyn and Aaron Freeman are relationship experts, founders of Empowered Couples University, and the authors of The New Power Couple and The Argument Hangover, which just hit shelves in March 2021 and was listed as the #1 New Release.

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Aaron Freeman directs the viewer or reader to – before the presentation begins – pause for a moment and consider what brought you here.

Some people wanted to learn more about marketing, or innovating, or working on retention, or just gleaning ideas on how to expand a company. But even then, what’s the benefit to you? You earn more money. So what?

“So that you can have the freedom in your life. So that you can feel achievement, accomplishment. So you can provide for your family, be a legacy. Why we are all here is relationships,” said Aaron.

The Freemans begin their presentation with the following notion: Relationships are the key to success in your business and in your life.

Consider whether you’ve had an argument with someone close to you? Be it a friend, a family member, a person you have a romantic connection with, or a coworker, the Freemans note that afterward, no matter what, you likely feel disconnected, upset, hurt, or guilty. They call that the “argument hangover” – the period of time between having an argument and fully resolving it emotionally. Until you resolve things, you can be distracted
and upset in your everyday life.

Most people see only two choices when it comes to arguments: either avoid getting into conflicts altogether; or avoid the person you feel tension with, thereby ruining that relationship instead of tackling what might be a difficult conversation.

The Freemans note, ruined relationships can tank a business empire.

“How many of you remember the brand National Lampoons? John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray – their career was launched through National Lampoons, that started as a small comic publication, which grew into huge comic magazines, radio stations, TV spots, skits, and is actually what led to Mad TV, if you remember that, SNL was all birthed from that, and this became a huge comic and entertainment empire. But after, the founders let a lack of communication, conflict, avoiding each other – it ended the business, it ended friendships, and it even ended the life of the founder, Doug Kenney,” said Aaron

“But on the other side of it, financial success doesn’t guarantee relationship success,” continued Aaron, noting that Jeff Bezos’ marriage fell apart. “And relationship success is where you feel the connection, the collaboration, that’s where life is.”

Argument hangovers can lead to elimination of relationship with managers, investors, and other partnerships.

Jocelyn notes that of course, challenges happen in any sort of relationship. But there are tools you can use to strengthen, rather than strain, your relationship.

Jocelyn prompts the viewer or reader to have an honest check-in with yourself. Would you consider yourself a great communicator?

Regardless of your answer, Jocelyn notes there’s always room for growth and improvement. Keep in mind, it’s easy to communicate when people are doing what you want, such as if they feel pressured to because you’re their boss.

Masterful communicators strengthen relationships when there isn’t agreement, the Freemans say. Life is a negotiation – it’s conversation, it’s understanding, and, as Chris Voss once said, it’s a game of empathy.

“You probably do more damage by how you fight – the things you say, the things you do, the things you don’t do, like continue to stay in communication – that does more damage than the original cause of an opposite perception or a disagreement,” said Aaron. Think: Do people in your life ever feel that conversations with you go unresolved? Do they ever feel invalidated or misunderstood? Is there resentment building up in your relationships with investors, with staff members, with friends, or even more importantly, with your romantic partners, your spouse?”

Jocelyn says the goal is not to avoid conflict. She says research proves that avoiding conflict in the short-term builds resentment in the long term, which is harder to recover from. Instead, the goal is to shorten your argument hangover.

Effective communication is the key.

The Freemans provide a list of things that do not work to influence change: blame, judgement, reactivity (being defensive), resentment (not letting people know something is wrong), criticism (whether they’re overtly mean or even just a micro-criticism), labeling, avoidance, complaints (there’s a subtle difference between complaining and truly expressing yourself), and passive aggressive statements.

“A lot of these are attitudes or moods, and some of them are actions,” notes Aaron. “These only create power struggles, resistance – you could say defensiveness – and at very best, only create compliance.”

He explains, a person might say “Yes sir” and agree to do what you asked, but may be thinking “Get off my back, already. Why are you always complaining? I’ll tell you I’m going to do that, but I’m not going to.” That isn’t what you want.

There’s a difference between compliance and commitment.

Jocelyn says the things that can actually influence change come from the following: empathy, agreements (rather than assumptions), clear boundaries, accountability, consistency, communicating proactively (instead of waiting until after someone is already frustrated), healing resentments (and not letting those resentments last longer than a day), asserting your needs from an “I” perspective, and commitments.

Empathy is one of the more complex of those notions. It means being able to validate someone else’s reality, even if it’s different from your own.

As for the goal of asserting your needs from your own perspective, Jocelyn explains, “Instead of sounding like, ‘Here you go again, this is what you always do,’ instead say, ‘Hey, I’m realizing what I need is…”

Jocelyn and Aaron model a typical conversation, where people point fingers and get defensive.

Jocelyn approaches Aaron and says he’s been working a lot and they aren’t having enough date nights. Aaron points out they just had a date night the previous Sunday and asserts that nothing he does is ever good enough. Jocelyn brings up again that Aaron has been working a lot, to which he replies, “Why do you think I’ve been working?”

The conversation has a lot of tension and frustration. Each person involved assumes what the other is going to say and doesn’t let their partner finish their sentence.

“We’re all human! We all do it sometimes!” says Jocelyn to the audience, asking them to ponder whether they can see any part of themselves in that modeled argument.

“One of my favorite things,” says Aaron, “is, ‘That wasn’t my intention.’ So then you argue with, ‘That wasn’t my intention so it’s illogical that you responded that way or you’re experiencing that.’ You’re already in the place of no influence. That doesn’t work. So what does work?”

The Freemans present three steps to empathize with someone.

First, say, “What I’m hearing you say is __. Is that right?”

That lets the person you’re speaking with know you really are listening.

The Freemans re-model the same conversation using that tool. It also gives them time to reflect on whether what they were saying really is what they intended to express. Often, when someone is feeling emotional, they say things that aren’t exactly representative of what they want to get across. This gives them a chance to clarify.

Jocelyn says it seems like Aaron has been working a lot and the couple’s number of date nights has reduced and they aren’t spending enough time together. Aaron responds, “So what I’m hearing you say is, because of the amount of hours I’m working, we’re not having the same amount of time together. Is that right?” Jocelyn says yes, that’s correct.

The next step to continue empathizing is to say, “It sounds like what you are feeling is ___

This is where the real empathy is. It communicates that both people are on the same page.

In the couple’s conversation about Aaron working more, Aaron continues the conversation. “It sounds like what you’re feeling is maybe not as prioritized. It sounds like you’re feeling a desire for more actual connection between both of us.” Jocelyn answers yes, that is how she’s feeling.

Finally, as you continue to try to empathize through the discussion, respond, “I would love to hear more about that, and what you need.”

That lets people focus more on the solutions rather than on the blame. You have to be comfortable both with the emotion your partner is feeling, so that you can connect and come to a collaborative solutions together. In the couple’s discussion, Aaron might say more exactly, “I would love to hear more about how you’d like to go about that. How would you like to experience more connection and more quality time together?” That prompts Jocelyn to explain her thoughts and feelings without being combative.

To the audience, Jocelyn explains, “In real life, you can slow down, and you can acknowledge and make sure you hear what they’re saying. So often, we aren’t actually hearing what they’re saying. We’re hearing through the filter that we have.”

Those steps make sure you aren’t just trying to justify your own point of view and make your partner feel like they don’t have a right to be feeling or experiencing what they are going through from their own perspective.

Communication with family can be especially difficult because people tend to take things quite personally.

The second way the Freemans have come up with to prevent an argument hangover from ruining your relationships is something they call the “5R Method”

The 5R Method is about Repairing a Conflict. – simply saying you’re sorry isn’t enough.

“I know that’s what we all default to, because it’s the easy thing to say,” said Jocelyn. “Eventually, after hours or days, you come to them and say, ‘I’m sorry’ and you think that should just be the end of it, let’s move on! But does ‘I’m sorry’ really repair things emotionally? Sometimes, if it’s something small, maybe. But usually if there was damage done during the disagreement, things said that were hurtful, past resentments coming up, ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t address the impact of what was done during the disagreement.”

Another problem is that “I’m sorry” loses its weight after a while, when you hear it repeatedly from someone. The apology has to come with change.

The first R is Reflect.

After you notice things as not being productive, request time to pause so you can think things over a bit. Don’t use this time to just stew over all the ways the other person is wrong. Consider what it is you’re really upset about and why you’re feeling the way you are. Then, it’s important to consider what you yourself had been expecting from your partner and whether you ever actually expressed that to them or even to yourself.

“In this reflection period is where you’re going to access something new. We’re talking about how conflict can actually strengthen your relationship. But it can’t if you don’t realize anything new,” said Jocelyn. “Does this keep happening to us? Why might this keep coming up? The reflection period – whether it’s five minutes or it’s five days of reflection, is where you’re hopefully getting some new awareness.”

Second, Responsibility.

This is technically still part of your reflection, where you consider the role you played and the impact your actions had. Some suggestions from the Freemans are to approach this by considering not if, but where you bear responsibility.

“If you’re actually committed to being a leader and to having conflicts lead to innovation, to strengthening relationships, you must commit to not just saying if you had responsibility. If you’re reflecting on if you had responsibility or not, you’re not a leader,” said Aaron. “If you’re a leader, you’re going to look at where you had responsibility in this conflict.”

It’s also a good idea to acknowledge any withheld or unexpressed communications. You may have avoided saying something because you didn’t want to rock the boat; but in many circumstances, it’s better to say something than to avoid conflict, because if things get worse, it is partially your fault for not expressing your feelings earlier.

Another big piece is to take responsibility for what impact your actions had on the other person. The most important piece of this is, it doesn’t matter if the impact doesn’t make sense to you. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your intention was, it matters how the person is feeling in response to your actions.

Then, take responsibility for any areas you’ve broken promises or agreements.

Next, Reconnect.

This is where you’re coming back together to validate each other’s perspectives and share where you take responsibility.

“If something did get escalated within the disagreement, you can’t just come back together, say ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘Oh, we should be able to move on.” Don’t approach things like you’re waiting for the other person to apologize. Be a leader!

When you come back together to have a conversation about the disagreement and what happened, the very first thing you should say is, ‘Where I’m taking responsibility is ____.” Then, ask the person, “How did that impact you?” Don’t make assumptions. If you said something you know probably hurt your partner, don’t assume why it hurt them, ask them.

Likely, the person will match that behavior.

Then, Remind.

“Now, you can feel how the energy there is one of understanding, of empathy, of collaboration, of at least being the same thing. Now is the next step to remind,” said Aaron. “This is where we really start to complete whatever sort of impact, whatever sort of disagreement was there, by now reminding each other of what your commitment is to that relationship, and what your agreements are.”

First, get to what it is that you’re committed to. In a romantic relationship, remind your partner that you’re committed to compassion and understanding and the love you share. In a business partnership, you’re likely committed to growth for the brand, or to success and expansion.

“The thing is, you are always committed to something. When there are disagreements, when you don’t see things the same way, what is that people are normally committed to? Being right. Is that what you want to stay committed to?” prompt the Freemans.

Then, think about what agreements you can put together in the future. For instance, the Freemans have agreements not to swear or leave the room during arguments. In your business, you might remain committed to your brand or your vision.

Finally, Reconcile.

“Now that you’ve reminded each other of what you’re committed to, now you can reconcile the conflict into an opportunity,” said Jocelyn. “Yes, we are saying that conflict can be an opportunity!”

Innovation often comes from challenges. That’s possible within relationships. View conflict as something that births a new awareness about each other, a new level of partnership, and a new connection. That is a completely different way to see conflict.

Discuss with your partner what lessons you each may have learned from the conflict and what new things you may have learned about each other’s needs. You can also vocalize your appreciation for how that conflict is strengthening and evolving your relationship or partnership.

“If you see conflict as something that strengthens your relationship, rather than strains it, you show up differently. You want to repair faster, because you want the gold on the other side,” said Jocelyn. “That is so transformative.”

The Freemans challenge the viewers or readers to consider what your own personal commitments are. What steps of the 5R Method are you going to commit to being even better at?

“By practicing both of the things we talked about today, the secrets to influencing people through empathy, as well as the 5Rs to repair from any conflicts, you will keep unresolved argument hangovers from ruining the most important relationships in your life,” said Aaron.

Relationships are the purpose of life, and developing and maintaining them is how you remain successful.

Patrick Antrim, CEO of Multifamily Leadership, asks the Freemans to talk more about why family disagreements are particularly challenging.

“A couple things,” answers Jocelyn. “There’s the practical reasons that we could give, then there’s the emotional reasons. From a practical perspective, when we are working during the day… whatever your work looks like, a lot of times, people are having a hard time transitioning from work mode to family mode. So we actually recommend a transition activity. You can take five minutes, twenty minutes, to transition your mind from work mode to being present and thinking, ‘Okay, I need to be here with the family.’”

Jocelyn recommends going on a quick walk or listening to some music, or watching a fun video as potential practices that can help you transition. A lot of people feel like their partner doesn’t have energy for them at the end of the day.

As for an emotional reason, a lot of people haven’t gotten comfortable sharing their feelings. Even when people share children and finances, they often only have surface-level conversations. It’s a good practice to ask questions about your feelings and experiences of the day, rather than just the sequence of events.

Aaron notes that people spend a lot of energy at work, and likely don’t want to risk getting into an argument once they’re home, because it can take up time and effort. But realistically, by slowing down and giving your attention to your partner and taking on a harder conversation to understand their emotional needs and make the person seem seen and heard, you open a depth of connection that isn’t there when you simply manage tasks.

Antrim notes that taking responsibility in work could have the unwanted effect of setting a precedent you don’t want. You don’t want people to walk all over you!

Aaron explains, the difference is that you should take responsibility in such a way that the person is heard and understood, and the impact of what you did was acknowledged. “It’s a really big difference between understanding and empathy, and the solution that you move forward with. Especially nowadays, people don’t feel seen and heard.” Aaron details, take responsibility for how your actions made the person feel. Maybe you made them feel undervalued or like they weren’t collaborated with. Now they feel heard and understood. Then, you can explain, you are still going to move forward with whatever was decided on previously, but you do understand what the person was feeling and can improve in the future.

Jocelyn expands that it’s important to avoid assumptions. Write out your agreements so that you can reference that – rather than saying “you’re wrong” saying “this is what we agreed to.”

If you’re interested in getting the Freemans’ book, you can find it on Amazon or with any retailer or bookstore like Barnes and Noble.

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