Understanding Separation Issues That Arise Between Twins

Helpful insights and advice

Posted Apr 20, 2020

Understanding Separation Issues That Arise Between Twins, Their Friends, and Partners:

How to de-escalate the emotional disruptions that friends and spouses bring to the twin relationship is an important skill for every twin to learn. One hundred percent of the twins I have talked with openly share that friends and spouses create stress, discord, and sometimes contribute to an estrangement between twins. No matter how nonjudgmental and accepting your new partner may be to your twin, jealousy will arise between the two of them. Naturally, both your twin and the new partner will feel threatened or confused. And for sure, some twin and non-twin relationships are toxic because of the emotional intensity and interdependence that twins share, which throws new relationships off-balance.

Additionally, twins are not used to superficial relationships and small talk. Unknowingly twins may want closeness and attention immediately and with practically everyone they meet. The new friend may feel as if their twin friend wants too much closeness and attention. The twin may feel a sense of emptiness in new relationships and long for their twin, who can understand them immediately, depending on the closeness that they shared in childhood and adolescence.

Another facet of making a new relationship brings up the question: Who is number one? Your twin or your new partner? Jealousy on both sides about the new person’s place in your twin’s life can be destructive and devastating. Who should you remain loyal to, your twin or your new partner?

How do you resolve fights, whether out in the open or underground, between your twin and the new outsider? New friend problems are truly tricky to solve. Being mindful of these types of potential problems is helpful. As well, talking to your twin about who comes first, who gets primary loyalty, and how much interdependence is emotionally healthy will help everyone to think more clearly.

Here is an example of disruption created by a new boyfriend addition to a twin relationship. Margaret and Melinda are graduating from college. Margaret has had one boyfriend throughout college, and they plan to be together after they graduate. Melinda has had a series of boyfriends and is not committed to one person. While it is unspoken, both women plan to separate from one another and take their own paths as young adults.

Unfortunately, they are totally unprepared for what comes next, which is not unusual for twins who have not had a lot of healthy parental attention. Both twins make decisions that do not take the stress of separating from their sister into consideration. Margaret marries her college sweetheart and moves across the pond to London. She cannot afford to visit her sister. Melinda marries and feels lost. She has serious difficulties making friends and adjusting to her new life.

Both sisters make their new husbands number one, in spite of the deep criticisms they have about their brothers-in-law. Whether the twins are aware of jealousy or not, new relationships are seen as competitors. Margaret and Melinda want it both ways. In other words, these sisters want to have two number ones in their life. Unfortunately, estrangement begins to define their adult years. Both long for their childhood attachment, but they cannot reestablish this closeness later in life for more than a day or two.

A second example goes like this. Rachel and Rebekah are paired ice skaters who have received many awards for their performances. To say the least, both are very used to getting feedback from one another. They share an unusual closeness. Rachel falls in love and plans a wedding. Her twin Rebekah thinks that her sister’s fiancé is a materialist loser, and Rebekah is passively aggressive at all marriage-related events. Rachel gets married, and Rebekah has to be like her sister and talks her boyfriend into a secret wedding.

Rachel is unhappy in her marriage, and Rebekah is pleased that she saw that he was not husband material. Unfortunately, Rebekah is tremendously unhappy in her own marriage and has a nervous breakdown. Cleaning up the mess from these two marriages takes time for each twin. It is not easy.

On some level, the double marriage and double divorce are hard to understand unless you are a twin. Each of these young women did not have enough self-confidence and life skills to be with someone besides their twin. Although they wanted to be married, they were unable to cope with another person’s lack of attentiveness.

A very common example of how newcomers affect twin relationships follows. Jeanie falls in love and marries her college sweetheart. Her twin Jody dates but never marries because she cannot find the right person whom she can always trust. Jeanie feels continually guilty that she is married, and Jody is not married, even though Jeanie knows that her sister’s marital status is not really her concern. Jeanie feels like her marriage has driven a wedge between her and Jody, while Jody feels pressured to marry but cannot make the commitment to another person. Unspoken longings and resentment fill up their adult relationship.

Here is one last example, which I have seen many times. Amanda and Annie are raised by a single mother who is always struggling financially. These girls are high achievers and bound and determined not to make the same mistake their mother made. At college, Amanda meets and marries a talented surgeon. Annie meets and marries a financial wizard.

Both are enormously wealthy, but also extremely unhappy that they live far away from one another. Annie leaves her husband and moves in with her sister and her sister’s husband and children. Annie and Amanda make their own lives, but never make their husbands number one. Their loyalty remains to each other, even though they are both strong and successful women.


Marriage creates enormous stress for twins and their partners because it creates a deeper separation between them, which can be a confusing and difficult adjustment. How twins will accept their sister’s or brother’s new partner is hard to predict. What helps is communication about the problems that arise, preparation, and acceptance for problems that cannot be solved. The hope is that over time, resentments will diminish, and warmth between your two families will develop and survive.