Adult Twin Fighting

How to manage a scary roller coaster ride.

Posted Aug 02, 2020

“When we get to heaven we will find out the truth about who is right and who is wrong.”—Beatrice

Adult twin fighting is very different than when children or teenagers fight. Persistence and self-righteousness intensify whatever the fight is about. For example, “Who started the fight and why” reaches heights of emotion that are unbelievably serious. The range of fighting is wide and deep: “Who will wear the new white T-shirt?” “Who is going to give the eulogy at our mother’s funeral?” Simple questions create serious disagreements between twins. “Who is going to make the family dinner? Where will mom and dad be seated?”

Why do these simple questions cause endless fighting and suffering for twins, their parents, spouses, and children? In fact, outsiders and everyone who is coming to dinner will hear about the problems twins have with birthday parties and family dinners. Deeper questions over inheritances can lead to unbelievable legal battles, where no cost is too much if you are going to win. For the record, no matter what, every twin is right and their co-twin is wrong.

Even though families are different in terms of socio-economic status, profession, and culture, the same scenarios erupt with very similar problems. Who caused the problem? Who is responsible for what? Who can make the interactions between the twins in the family more reasonable? Whose fault is it anyway that we don’t get along? How can we resolve our differences? The only relief that I have ever experienced in these situations is when I share that twin fighting in the family is common and much more intense than in non-twin families. My friends and relatives could never understand the fighting that was triggered when my twin sister and I were at family events. I gave up explaining out of frustration.

The critical question: How can we understand the unwieldy chaos that twins bring to family life as they get older and long for independence?

  1. First, twins and their families have to accept that fighting represents separation and individuation from one another.
  2. There is no way to avoid fighting if twins are going to live their own separate lives.
  3. When parents or close others intrude on fights, problems escalate.
  4. Empathy and acceptance are better when twins are not able to get along.
  5. Make getting along something that you hope for in the long run.
  6. Competition between twins is intense, so sensitivity about who is right and who is wrong is taken way too seriously.
  7. Being dismissive is cruel because, in reality, the fighting is serious between the pair.

When Twin Fighting Won’t Stop: Strategies That Can Limit Fights

The most commonly asked question from twins: “My twin and I have not spoken to each other in years because we cannot agree on how to get along. Our parents and siblings and friends want us to get along. But my twin triggers deep anger and resentment in me. Sometimes just hearing her voice gets me into a downward spiral of anger at her and self-hatred toward myself for not being able to get along with her.”

In my personal and professional experiences, twin fighting is normal, expectable, and understandable. Fighting becomes more painful and frustrating as twins get older and cannot resolve their differences of opinion. Older twins often come to accept their distance and estrangement, but accepting that you can’t get along is always painful.

In most situations, twin fighting is based on limited or inadequate parenting, which might include:

  1. Treating twins as a unit, as if they are joined at the hip.
  2. Polarizing twins into “bad” and “good” in an attempt to treat them differently.
  3. Not providing enough opportunities for individual development.
  4. Expecting twins to “parent” one another due to parental indifference.

Parents wonder how to stop the fighting between their twins that begins in the crib and continues on in different ways throughout the life span. Sometimes fighting will lead to estrangement. Managing fighting is very hard to do because of the intensity involved between the pair. While outsiders to the relationship just want the fighting to stop, the reality and depth of anger or neediness are so intense that it can be impossible to stop.

Often, fighting is based on the experience of the twin sister or brother being abusive emotionally or physically. Sometimes abuse based on competition is apparent. After listening to much twin fighting, I have thought that there needs to be a “twin court” to resolve the serious disputes between twins. But I know in reality that twins need to make their own decisions about when they have had enough of their twin’s humiliation and unkind or hurtful behavior.

Strategies that I have found effective to reduce the intensity of anger include:

  1. Accepting that all twins fight.
  2. Understanding why you are fighting, and try to eliminate triggers. For example, if your twin thinks you are bossy try hard to speak kindly to avoid conflict.
  3. The estrangement between twins is common and has different outcomes depending on the emotional health of each twin.
  4. It is better not to fight and to avoid one another than to continually go over and over the anger each has.
  5. Get distance from your twin and reflect on how “what you need and want” is different from your sister or brother.
  6. Respect how your twin is different than you. Hopefully, they will respect your differences.
  7. Seek out the support of a psychotherapist.
  8. Become educated about twin development.
  9. Make friends with twins and share your problems with them.

There is no shame in not being able to get along with your twin. Lots of twins don’t get along. Keeping your problems with your twin a secret will not help. Talking with other twins who don’t get along will surely make your problems more manageable.


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