When Twin Fighting Won’t Stop

Twin fighting is normal, expectable, and understandable.

Posted Dec 30, 2019

Dr. Barbara Klein
Dr. Barbara Klein
Source: Dr. Barbara Klein

The most commonly asked question from twins who visit me online or in person goes something like this: “My twin and I have not spoken to each other in years because we cannot agree on how to get along. Our parents, siblings, and friends want us to get along, but my twin triggers deep anger and resentment in me. Sometimes just hearing her voice sets me into a downward spiral of anger at her and self-hatred at 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.

Stopping the fighting between twins begins in the crib and continues on to the end of time in some situations where estrangement develops. Managing fighting is very hard to do because of the intensity involved between the twin 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 experiences of the twin sister or brother being abusive, emotionally or physically. Sometimes abuse based on competition is apparent. After listening to so 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 trying to eliminate triggers by not “going over them” with your twin. (“Going over things” is also known as perseveration. Let it go.) 
  3. Estrangement between twins is common and has different outcomes depending on the health of each twin.
  4. It is better not to fight and avoid one another than to continually go over and over the anger you have at each other.
  5. Get distance from your twin and reflect on what you need and want that is different than your sister or brother.
  6. Seek out the support of a psychotherapist.
  7. Become educated in the knowledge of twin development.
  8. Make friends who are twins and share your problems with them.

In conclusion, 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 surely not make your problems more manageable.