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The Lasting Power of Early Twin Attachment

Unique closeness with your twin creates loneliness and a longing for harmony.

Early Attachment for Twins Is as Indelible as Eye Color

I have said this many times: “Twins are born married and divorce is not really an option.” At birth and into adolescence, if twins are living together, emotional closeness and separation anxiety is predictable. Even if or when twins fight with each other mercilessly over minor problems such as who can wear our favorite socks or T-shirts, twin attachment to one another is emotionally intense and hard to defuse. Fighting over who gets what is ongoing even into adulthood.

As twins separate in adolescence and go their own ways, anger and sometimes estrangement from one another is more common than most people would imagine or believe. The attachment that twins share is seriously hard to disentangle and creates strong expectations and disappointment. Which twin is to blame for an argument or misunderstanding can turn into a seemingly overly serious conflict that deserves to be heard by the Supreme Court, according to the twin pair who are disagreeing.

In spite of the strong differences in opinion, once a twin, always a twin. Twin identity cannot be eliminated whether or not you love one another, have a workable pragmatic relationship, or fight continuously and long not to be a twin. Twin identity that is born in the womb is part of the root of individual identity.

The early attachment of twinship is intense and irreplaceable because twins share their mother, their life before birth, and infancy, early life, and onward. The relationship with a twin is primary, a long-lasting part of identity. As infants, twins often perceive themselves as one person, which is the basis of their twin identity and individuality that grows as they learn about the outside world. Developing an individual identity in each child takes time and a great deal of input from mom and dad and other high-level responsible caregivers. Teaching twins to honor their sister or brother is an equally difficult parental challenge. Over-identification between twins—confusion about who needs to take care of a situation that calls for attention—starts very early in life and can and will torment both parts of the twin pair, parents, siblings, teachers, spouses, and therapists.

The reason that, so far as I know, psychologists and parents have not figured out how to help twins to get along on any truly consistent basis is related to the depth of the twin attachment. The twin bond is a mystery that is related to a misunderstanding of the nature of its importance. The early attachment is more like the parent-child bond than the sibling bond. For example, a very interesting and somewhat proactive set of extremely bright and well-parented 11-year-old twins fight with each other if they feel that one of them is taking on the “parenting” role. They actually experience their twin sister as more of a parent than just a sister. Trying to break up their fights over “parenting” still remains an unknown process to me. And their angry interactions over parenting/not-parenting each other suggest to me that the twin relationship is parental in nature.

Twins share a unique pattern of communicating with one another, which is verbal and nonverbal and based on a shared developmental history. Relating to non-twins can be difficult because of the lack of previous understanding by the non-twin. Wishing to communicate with very little energy or intentionality to non-twins can be impossible and frustrating. In other words, your twin will understand you with abbreviated input and less effort. In contrast, outsiders require more information to understand what twins are saying. Actually, twins have secret communication skills that even their parents don’t understand. Unfortunately, translating their special language into “normal” language is difficult to impossible.

Often, twins of all ages get frustrated with all non-twin communication if they are tired or stressed. I have consulted with twin pairs who knew exactly what they were saying to each other but I could not understand what they were trying to tell me. Harmonious relationships or fighting are normal for twins and much more intense than with similar age siblings. Tight inter-twin connections provide comfort for twins who are used to being listened to and responded to very quickly. Loneliness and feeling misunderstood are inevitable for twins as they grow into adulthood.

What starts as separation anxiety in the crib and throughout childhood evolves into longings for the closeness of the twin when physical separation because of schooling or illness is necessary. Missing the closeness of twinship can be painful and confusing. Accepting that missing your twin is just a part of life that most non-twins will not understand is the most helpful solution I can give. Trying to replace your twin through marriage or work is always an option to fall back on. But a true twin replacement is very hard to find. Here are some ideas on twin replacement if you are seriously motivated.

1. Understand psychologically what it means to be a twin.

2. Talk with your twin about your separation anxiety, and plan times to visit and to talk on the phone.

3. Don’t expect to find non-twins as understanding as your twin.

4. Find some twin friends to communicate with about your missing your sister or brother.

In conclusion, closeness and harmony are an inevitable part of the attachment that twins share. Trying to figure out what will encourage closeness and eliminate anger is extremely challenging. Perhaps understanding that your twin sister or brother wants to be the same as you or can’t deal with how different you are from each other is the first step to revitalizing your attachment.