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Posts Tagged ‘pecking order’


In Seinfeld they talked about having “hand”, short for “the upper hand”, in a relationship. This is not to be confused with George’s short time as a hand model. They were addressing the reality that in relationships there is often one in control, the one who has the most power in the relationship.

This is not particular to human. My sister-in-law’s German short hair pointer Billy was “top dog” in their neighborhood for years. Those years have caught up to him, so he’s probably lost that status. The top dog is literally the dog on top because the dog on the bottom has submitted. He’s the boss.

Yesterday on the Shamrock Farms tour, I learned that cows have a pecking order. One is the boss and all the others know their place in line and follow along. This usually makes life much easier for the dairy farmer. Control the one cow, and you control the others in her group of 20.  When you have 10,000 cows, you can see why this matters.

Relationships are all about negotiating the balance of power.  Typically the one least concerned with the relationship has more power, “hand” and is in the driver’s seat. They have less need for the other person’s love, affection, admiration, attention etc. So they are less likely to be manipulated into doing the other person’s will.  We can see this in the recent labor negotiation in the NFL and NBA. The owners typically have the upper hand- they don’t need the sport to make a living. They have other revenue streams. The players on the other hand are dependent upon their paychecks.  Unions are only successful if a company has no other revenue streams. But in these cases, they don’t.

Edward Welch addresses this in his latest book, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care?.

“We prefer to be liked, loved, admired more than we want to like, love, or admire. That imbalance gives power in a relationship, and by power I mean the less invested person has less chance of being hurt. So goes the arithmetic of human relationships.”

There you have it. The person who wants out of a relationship usually has all the power, unless the other person poses a physical, emotional or financial danger.  Most of us cave in when the other person leaves. What are our options? Unless we are willing to blackmail, beat or rob them blind we recognize we can’t win and move on with life.

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