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Understanding Twins

How to Stay Close With Your Twin

Personal Perspective: Developing the valuable aspects of twinship.

Demystifying the twin relationship has been my life-long journey. I am a twin who has been seriously misunderstood by intrusive onlookers and inadequate parenting. The fantasy or myth that twins have an ideal relationship that naturally exists without any challenges has been very difficult for me and other twins who inevitably compete, fight, and have serious complaints about their twin. For example, I have spoken with many twins who remark sadly, “My brother or sister is too aggressive or too passive or never around. When we were younger we managed to get along and help each other with all of our school, friend, and clothes problems.”

As twins get older I hear: “Now my sister or brother is interfering with my friends, which creates inordinate stress, disappointments, and confusion. Our own nuclear families have difficulty getting along with both of us.”

Other common intrusions include comments comparing twins, leading to one twin feeling diminished or inadequate, which very often seriously undermines their self-esteem. Inappropriate, hurtful comments are something that twins experience regularly, with often crushing consequences and an intensification of serious power struggles. Siblings are not subjected to this type of harassment from others. It is sad how one's own twin or outsiders can hurt a twin.

What twin estrangement teaches twins about getting along

Let me first admit that the twins who contact me have difficulties respecting each other's points of view for many reasons. Estranged twins have led me to list these top problems for constantly fighting twins and estranged twins. They are as follows:

  1. Very intense verbal and physical competition.
  2. Too much closeness with each other.
  3. Unrealistic expectations for being able to agree.
  4. The addition of new significant others that come between the twins’ closeness. Spouses, children, in-laws, and business partners are a few potential intruders to twin closeness.
  5. Unresolved jealousy and feelings of being misunderstood.
  6. Parenting that is inadequate or experiences that are abusive either physically or emotionally.

Holding on to your twin closeness takes thought and energy but is extremely helpful

Getting beyond anger and possible estrangement is very difficult because twins are intense and expect from others what their twin gave them. One of my former friends told me that I had too many expectations about how my cousin should treat me. I was so offended by this comment that I avoid her opinions about my ability to live in (and conform to) a non-twin world at all costs. Still, there is some truth in her thoughts about my social skills. Emotional intensity in relationships is a given for twins and needs to be monitored by the twins themselves, not onlookers. In other words, cheap advice may hold the truth but is not helpful at all for twins, who easily feel misunderstood and then withdraw.

The underlying issues between twins can be lessened if twins are encouraged to be respected for their individuality. Another way to avoid fighting with your twin is to ask yourself: “How am I different from my twin?”

“Why am I different?” is an important question to examine carefully. Wanting what your twin wants is understandable and even normal. Many times, I have wanted a dress or necklace that my sister had added to her collection. I bartered hard with her with one of my prized possessions. Wanting what your twin has can be a ridiculous exercise in self-destruction and nonsense, but it happens all of the time, in my experience.

However, thinking that getting the same attention and materialistic objects as your twin will make your life meaningful can be harmful. I have worked with twins who think their sister is prettier than they are and cannot cope with the idea that they are both pretty but in different ways. My sister cannot stand the way I write because it is different from her way. She says that she is a better writer because she is a rhetoric professor at Stanford. I say, “So what” to her. We approach our intellectual strengths differently. It is our twin achievement that we don't want to be like each other.

Closeness between twins grows when respect and interest for individuality are given by a twin to their co-twin. Enjoying who your twin is as a different person will help bring you back to the happier days when you were young and played well together. Respecting each other's choices can be difficult but will promote a more meaningful relationship. As you respect each other there will be less focus on competition and outsiders’ comments.

Conclusions and recommendations

Respect for differences between twins is of the upmost importance. Focusing on similarities between twins encourages and promotes competition between the pair. Closeness between twins as they mature is based on mutual respect and the affirmation of individuality. Jealousy and fighting will be avoided if twins value their sister or brother. When judgment and criticism are a part of the adult relationship between twins, closeness will be harder to find.

Here are some suggestions for encouraging closeness:

  1. For twin children, try to limit comparative questions from friends, family members, and teachers. Be direct about your concern over how their questions create jealousy and unhappiness.
  2. For adult twins, focus on individual differences instead of not-well-thought-out questions about why they still look alike or who is happier with their life. You would not compare siblings automatically. So don't do this to twins.
  3. Be aware that newcomers to a twin relationship will create jealousy about who is the favored twin. Try to not show favoritism.
  4. Try to be sensitive about how hard it is to be a twin in a non-twin world.
  5. Make space in your life for time spent away from your twin.
  6. Make space for time alone to talk with just your twin.
  7. Don't over-react to your twin’s anger and disappointment with you. If you can. This will require some practice.
More from Barbara Klein Ph.D., Ed.D.
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