Let’s Jug It Out: How Emptying My Jug Saved My Relationship

Written by Darren Kanthal

December 7, 2023


This is Part 2 in our Conflict Resolution series. You can read Part 1 here – A New Take On Conflict Resolution, and Part 3 here – From Gut Punch to Virtual Hug: A New Take On Conflict Resolution


It appears that conflict is following me. Or maybe, since I’m the main constant in my life – I’m creating it or seeking it out.

In my last blog, I mentioned that I’m working through some personal stuff, partly influencing my shortness with Andrea.

Well, that “stuff” officially came to a critical juncture. And that’s a good thing!

My long-time girlfriend and I have one major misalignment and don’t see eye to eye on a topic that’s become rather damaging. And over the past few weeks – it’s been brewing. In fact, it’s actually been brewing for months – and it just so happens it came to a head.

In this instance, I’ve allowed a narrative, a story, to continue to fester and grow in my head. The longer I let it grow, the longer I chose not to communicate with her, the stronger the story got, and the more irritable I got. So much so that I acted out of character, had a hard time looking her in the eye, and threw verbal barbs like it was my job.

This persisted for weeks. Until I acted from this place of irritability, and as a result, I embarrassed myself. I took it jjuuusssttt a little too far…and in public with some of our friends. Damnit!!

I ended up losing sleep over this issue, and the next day, I told her, “I need to jug it out.”

What Does “Jugging It Out” Mean?

To “jug it out” means something needs to be said. It’s based on a communication framework our therapist taught us a few years ago.

As I tell you about the Jug, I’m not necessarily suggesting you follow it exactly in your professional life as you would in your personal life. Although you certainly could, it might not be entirely appropriate for the work world.

However, I think there’s much to learn from it. Not only is the framework effective for delivering sensitive feedback, but what I’ve also learned – and this might be THE most important aspect of it – once the feedback was delivered (i.e., I jugged it out with my partner and told her what’s been irritating me), I instantly felt better. I gave her a window into my behavior of late, and she was appreciative – it explained something she already knew – that something was off with me.

Not only that – it allowed us both to explore what’s been brewing. We both got to use our creative and caring minds to resolve this current episode and move forward.

And to my surprise – we made significantly more ground during this version of our ongoing disagreement than we ever have up to this point!

Ways to “Jug It Out”

mad sad scared

Essentially, the Emotional Jug is a reservoir of all our feelings. Although it’s not always noticeable, we can use it as an indicator to know if someone we love is experiencing emotional turmoil — because, just like an overloaded jug, it leaks. Here’s the overview and outline of how to prevent that from happening.

Blowing Your Top

Let’s start with the end in mind and work backward. In the example of the Jug – it’s all about what we do with our feelings and emotions. If we keep them all in (like I did in this story), eventually the jug overflows, we reach our tipping point, and we engage in dirty fighting, we blow, we lose our sh*t, pop our cork, or whatever saying you like best.

Our emotional “jug” is no different than a cup of water. That cup can only handle as much liquid as its container can hold. When it’s completely full, and you try adding more liquid, it overflows.

The same holds true for us. If we hold all our emotions in and don’t share them – i.e., emptying out our emotional jug – eventually, we blow.

And that’s the amazing beauty of this framework. At its best, we consistently and regularly allow folks into our mental well-being by “emptying our jug.”

It doesn’t need to be a profound or performative event. By simply saying you’re having a good or bad day, letting those you work with and care about know that you’re disappointed, stressed, overwhelmed, or whatever is going on with you – the main point is that you communicate it. Don’t hold it in and let things fester and grow.

The Framework

Jugging It Out means listening with empathy, and setting aside the temptation to judge, agree or disagree, interject, deny, distract, try to fix or solve, tell someone not to feel what he or she feels, ask questions, or bring the issues up later unless the person with the feelings wants to talk about them further.

To the letter of the law related to the Jug, there is a Listener, and a Speaker. When you’re ready to begin and in a position where you can be completely focused on each other without distractions, the Listener starts by asking the Speaker: “What are you MAD or ANGRY about?”

This is an invitation for the Speaker to look deep inside to see and feel what’s in their gut that’s connected to feelings of ANGER and to express those feelings in words. It’s not a speech, lecture or conversation, but a chance to become aware of the feelings and say them aloud.

After the Speaker has confided, the Listener says, “Thank you. What else are you MAD or ANGRY about?” The Speaker continues to look inside and give expression to whatever is there.

Again, after the Speaker confides, the Listener continues to express appreciation to the Speaker for sharing and asks, “What else?” for example, “Thank you. What else are you MAD or ANGRY about?” Depending on time constraints and the depth of confiding, the Listener can continue to ask or can move on to the next step.

When the Speaker indicates they’ve expressed everything they’re mad about [or you’ve used about a quarter of the time you’ve agreed upon], the Listener says, “Thank you. If you were MAD or ANGRY about anything else, what would it be?”

This step is very important, as the deepest feelings may come out last.

We then repeat these exact steps with the following questions:

    • What we’re MAD about (as per the above)
    • What we’re SAD about
    • What we’re SCARED about
    • What we’re GLAD about
emptying the emotional jug

But How Will This Work At Work?

Here is where I’m going to ask you to apply your work filter to this framework. I’m willing to bet you’re thinking, “There’s no way I’m about to tell my coworkers, boss, or direct reports that I’m ‘sad’ about this and ‘scared’ about that.”

I encourage you to think about other words and emotions that you could share. Here’s where your workplace and creative mind need to take over.

Maybe you’re not going to tell your colleagues that you’re “scared” the project won’t get completed, but I’m pretty sure you could tell them you’re “concerned” about delays or “disappointed” with the amount of time it’s taking to resolve risks and issues. I hear those words all the time in my work and with my clients at their corporate places of business.

With my partner, I didn’t go through all of these statements. Rather, “jugging it out” meant I have something important on my mind — it’s emotional, and I need you to listen. It meant that I’m going to use non-threatening language. It also meant I’m going to keep the focus on “I.”

Emptying your jug does not mean you unload on someone and tell them all the reasons they’re wrong, how they made you feel, or anything else pointed at them.

Emptying your jug is all “me” focused.

I’m feeling irritable. Period. So I communicated that. I also communicated what I was irritable about. And let’s be real, of course, she plays a role in my irritation. But I’m an adult and the only one responsible for my emotions.

Hint, hint – if you blame others for how you feel, you’re giving away your authority and power. And quite frankly – you’re probably misguided.

Time To Give Jugging It Out a Try

We all hear a lot about conflict resolution as it relates to leadership. There are even assessments to determine what type of conflict resolution-er you are.

However, it’s rare that I’ve seen an effective framework in the “how-to” category. The Jug has become our personal how-to when resolving issues at home.

If you don’t have a great model for resolving conflict, I suggest giving the Jug a try – maybe you can change the words to fit your workplace environment. By embracing this approach, you invite others into your mental well-being, and that can help foster a culture of empathy, communication, and collaboration.

As my personal story with the Jug illustrates, addressing the emotional reservoir not only defuses tensions but propels relationships forward, and can help you cover more ground than ever before. So the next time you feel like you’re about to blow your top – remember the JUG! Your coworkers and partners will thank you for it.

Darren Kanthal

Darren Kanthal, Founder of The Kanthal Group, is a values-driven leadership and career coach with over 20 years of experience in HR and Talent Acquisition. Darren is intensely passionate about helping mid-career leaders cut through the BS, do the foundational work, and achieve their greatness.


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