Demystifying the twin relationship has been a life long journey for me. Often the path I was on made me confront professional and personal battles that were deeply troubling and often confusing. But as I got to understand the research on twins and twins on a personal and professional level, new insights and understanding unfolded, which are exciting for twins to understand and for those who are interested in intimate relationships.
My clinical research indicates that twins have two distinct identities—as a twin and as an individual. Twin identity creates the deep attachment that consciously or unconsciously twins long to share throughout their life span. Individuality creates competition, anger, frustration, and resentment. Sharing parental attention can create deep insecurities and a sense of inadequacy. I have written books and internet articles extensively on the intensity and complications of twin relationships. I receive phone calls and email from my readers—twins and close relatives of twins—for advice on how to handle twin problems that are troubling and confusing. Because of my own struggles separating then fighting with my sister, and our estrangement in midlife, helping others is extremely rewarding for me when twins and parents of twins call me for advice. Deep and sometimes profound relief is expressed when twin fighting and estrangement are affirmed as normal and understandable in the context of child, adolescent, and adult development. In my professional and personal experiences with twins, together or alone, I have learned that twins are more able to function effectively in their world of relationships and work when they understand the differences between themselves and their twin and the twin world and the non-twin world.
Twin closeness and harmony provides peace and confidence. Twin fighting, which can turn into twin estrangement, is very common, painful, and troubling for twins. Fighting too much, alongside too much sharing, causes confusion for twins about who is responsible for what in their own twin-ship and with other people. In general, ego or self-boundary confusion is normal, understandable, and predictable with young twins because they don't have a clear sense of what is appropriate to take care of in new relationships or with their twin. But as twins grow up and develop their own sense of self, they need to learn how much to expect from their twin and others who are close. Without sensitivity and acknowledgement of what is possible in interpersonal relationships, twins can become disappointed in their twin or in others. Too much closeness, which is related to fear of being separated and on your own, can emotionally strangle twins who are enmeshed.
For example 40-year-old twins who work together and live together: While they each long for marriage and children, a lack of necessary social skills based on individual experiences prevents them from moving forward. Or twins who have been treated as opposites of one another will have too much anger based on disappointment in their co-twin. It is not unusual for twins to fear the presence of their twin. Some twins who have been pitted against one another cannot be in the same room with each other. Extreme anger that is unspoken and unresolved can devastate or cripple individual identity and twin identity. And of course, there are the twins who are in between these two extremes—“ordinary twins” who try to get along, but cannot do it consistently, like the fairy tales suggest.
While my theories are documented, I know that they are controversial as well because they are so counter to the social mythology about how twins have an ideal relationship. There is an overfocus on twins as subjects in genetic vs. environmental research. Ironically, even today after living through the ups and downs of my life as a twin in a non-twin world, my twin sister who has read my books on twins will not totally accept my point of view about how to survive our closeness, dependencies, and anger. Still I believe deeply in my ideas about why being a twin is special and extremely hard. I am hoping that twins who are struggling for whatever reason with each other or their families will find understanding and solace in my blog. Mental health professionals who understand the difficulties and rewards of a twin's journey to independence will be more effective, and so I am writing this blog for therapists who work with twins. Parents and relatives of twins will gain insight into why twins are different and often hard to get along with in a normal non-twin expectable way.
Understanding the twin relationship will help when twins understand why they are fighting or know why they cannot separate from one another. Their ability to develop strategies and appropriate expectations for one another and their lives is possible. The joy of closeness and harmony grows when maturity based on adulthood reality is built into the deep and entwined twin relationship. Profoundly accepting that once a twin always a twin is what it is. Twins can't get divorced. The twin relationship, often a mystery and difficult to understand in words, is undoubtedly a source of wonder, contentment, loneliness, anxiety, and an enduring part of identity.
Each post will address a specific twin issue that has been discussed previously with those struggling to understand how they fit into the non-twin world.