Healthy Twin Relationships Are Not Identical
Joan A. Friedman says healthy twin relationships are about exploring what your twinship means to each of you, without demanding that it necessarily mean the same thing.
The twin mystique, is a term that I’ve coined to describe how people romanticize twinship. Many people feel that twins have an unbreakable bond, telepathic intimacy, they are best friends, soul mates forever, and they are never alone. This mystique creates unrealistic expectations regarding how twins should relate to each other.
Your parents, friends, and society at large may expect the two of you to be intimate soul mates forever, to be lost without the other, to know each other better than you know yourself. Perhaps you believe that a uniquely spiritual connection between you and your twin does, in fact, exist, and that non-twins could never experience it.
My objective is not to dispel that belief, although I don’t happen to adhere to it myself. My aim is to help adult twins feel entitled to their individuality and to encourage them to discover it, regardless of how close they are with their twin.
Some of the core issues that often stand in the way of adult twins claiming that individuality: the inability to be honest with your twin about problems in your twinship; enmeshment and codependency; feeling responsible for your twin’s emotional or physical well-being; feeling compelled to compare yourself to your twin; seeking a twin-like friend or lover; and being unable to resolve conflicting loyalties.
What I have come to realize in my research is that twins deal with the challenges of “twinness” in a variety of ways, depending on their particular personalities, family background, and life circumstances.
Healthy twinships are as unique as the individuals who comprise them. Some twins would be miserable living across the country from each other; others are satisfied if they can connect across the miles online.
For some twins, a daily phone call is a prized ritual; for others, once a week is plenty. Some twins have little in common and yet seek each other out whenever they need a shoulder to cry on or a buddy to celebrate with. Others feel that they are on the same page about most things while at the same time understanding that their twin’s attitudes and feelings will never be a carbon copy of their own. Some same-age siblings claim never to have had a rough patch or serious conflict; others had to work through many issues.
There are twins who are best friends and twins who are not; twins who travel together and twins who wouldn’t dream of it; twins who consider themselves second parents to their nephews and nieces and twins who prefer night-clubbing to babysitting their brother or sister’s darling children.
What makes such disparate twinships healthy is that both siblings know who they are as individuals and can enjoy the relationship to their twin without feeling guilty, obligated, or intruded upon. Having a healthy relationship with your twin is about loving him or her, not needing that person to complete you.
A healthy relationship with your twin is also about exploring what your twinship means to each of you, without demanding that it necessarily mean the same thing. When you know yourself well enough to identify what you need and can communicate your needs to your twin without feeling that you’re going to destroy the twinship, you will open yourself to a more authentic relationship.
When same-age siblings can really listen to—and hear—their twin’s perspective, even if it diverges from their own, positive change is possible. The hope is that your connection will be based on honest feelings and shared history rather than on artificial expectations and obligation.
Self-Reflection & Twin Communication
When you understand the twin-related issues, you will be much better equipped to handle them. Self-reflection is key to that understanding, and so is talking to your brother or sister about your feelings.
Self-reflection is a tool that every twin can use to confront troubling twinship issues, abandon self-reproach and blame, and move on to a more satisfying, genuine relationship with oneself and one’s twin.
Although it may seem that self-reflection is a simple, straightforward process, it can be difficult for a twin. If you have always experienced life as half of a unit (“the twins”) rather than as an individual, and if you and your twin have been responsible for satisfying each other’s primary emotional needs, reflecting on how your twinship has influenced who you are can be painful.
Focusing on your personal history with your twin, acknowledging such issues as codependency, separation anxiety, caretaking, competition, and conflicting loyalties—and assessing the degree to which these problems are still unresolved—can be disturbing. However, the more self-reflective you are and the more honest you can be about your experience being a twin, the more easily you will be able to deal with the twin-related issues that may be holding you back from healthy relationships and a fulfilling life.
Getting in touch with your feelings may not be easy, but ultimately it will allow you to gain more control over your life. On the other hand, if you don’t confront the unresolved issues between you and your twin, and if you don’t fully know yourself as an individual, you may unwittingly carry your twinship issues along with you as “baggage” throughout your life. You may not only act out those issues with other friends or partners, but your relationship with your twin will remain stuck.
Once you become clear on the problem areas in your twinship, you may be ready to sit down and talk to your brother or sister about your feelings and their feelings. The point isn’t to get into an argument or refute your twin’s perception of your twinship; rather, it is to express yourself honestly and listen openly to what your twin has to say.
Understand that your twin brother or sister has his or her distinct perspective. The two of you may feel very differently about whether or not competition exists between you; about what each of you expects from the other; about holding onto unwanted guilt or resentment. If you can accept that the two of you will disagree, and that you may draw differing portraits of the same relationship, you can prevent your conversation from becoming a quarrel.
Adapted from: The Same but Different: How Twins Can Live, Love, and Learn to Be Individuals by Joan A. Friedman, PhD, Rocky Pines Press, February 2014.