A woman sits, alert but confident, as her lover threatens her. She holds a cat in her lap.

There are two very different kinds of strength depicted in this image. There is physical strength in the man's muscles and clenched fist, and there is spiritual strength in the woman's poise and matter-of-fact gaze.

Anger can often erupt in intimate relationships. For some, ironically, anger seems to express more readily toward loved ones than toward competitors or strangers. Anger is a product of fear, and intimacy exposes us to fear: fear of loss, fear of betrayal, fear of our own shortcomings. Moreover, anger naturally arouses fear in the person it is targeted at, which can result in an escalating spiral of emotion.

The woman in this image has chosen to break out of the spiral, to maintain her own composure while her lover rages. This is not an acceptance of abuse, but rather a defiance of it that draws from a deeper source than retalliation or flight. The woman recognizes that anger is a transient emotion, a fire that will consume its own source of fuel if she does not feed it. She is ready to protect herself if the situation becomes dangerous, but at the moment she is exercising patience. Her lover will hear and understand her better after his own emotions have ebbed away. The genuineness of her inner peace is attested by the cat on her lap, who remains comfortable and settled, but would surely tense and spring if he sensed fear and anxiety from his mistress.

Even in relationships where anger never manifests as a physical threat, it can threaten intimacy and stability. No one wants anger directed at them, and we each have our favored strategies for reacting to that discomfort: verbal sparring, submission, tears, avoidance, or the superficial calm of "rationally" countering the other's accusations and protests. Most of these responses, though, are themselves reflection of anger. Each creates problems of its own, and each escalates fear, animosity, and anxiety between the partners.

Spiritual strength often means refusing to get sucked into a drama of action and reaction, but instead finding confidence in one's own worth and weathering the storm of another's fears and insecurities. The temptation will be to use this moment to vent our own troubles, to listen to our weaknesses and respond reactively to the emotional threat. But the counsel of wisdom is patience, to wait until the flush of defensiveness has passed, and then consider one's deep feelings, and respond from the strength of self-knowledge.