I have asked all the twins I know from my real life, Facebook and other online connections to see if they know any twins who really get along. From these connections I conclude: not really. I have been working with twins to help them understand their identity as a twin for over 35 years. My guess is that 5 to 10 percent of twins actually have a meaningful and reciprocal relationship as adults. I am not including the twins who pretend they get along because they think they should or are ashamed that they don’t get along and deceive themselves. Now, it is true that I am the guru of twin inner turmoil and twins reach out to me to talk about the confusion, hurt and disappointment they feel when they are with their twin brother or sister. I know how difficult it is for twins to get along. I am not underestimating the danger of closeness between twins, which can literally infiltrate their singular sense of self.
Even though there is always rivalry for attention from parents, childhood can be somewhat harmonious. Teenage twins will fight using words and fists. Intense anger easily surfaces in adulthood. Rage between twins can create full-blown dramatic enactments and estrangement can follow. Here are some case examples of why estrangement occurs and lasts:
1. The favored twin Donnie, who is married, totally ignores his sister Marie. A somewhat amicable relationship has evaporated. At a Christmas dinner party, he acts as if Marie is invisible and totally ignores her. Marie’s parents avoid her as well, and Donnie and Marie’s siblings also show disinterest. No one says goodbye when Marie leaves by the back door.
2. Identical twin Irene, a single woman at the age of 45, refuses to attend her twin sister Jenny’s wedding. While Irene says she likes Helena, the woman Jenny is marrying, Irene is threatened by the marriage, which she sees as a replacement of their twinship. Irene refuses to attend the wedding. At the last minute she arrives and makes a terrible scene crying and yelling about her unhappiness. Jenny’s joy is relegated to the back burner. Friends are horrified by Irene’s anger, coldness and out of control hysterical behavior. Family members see Irene’s behavior as normal and expectable. Jenny has to work hard in psychotherapy to take her own side and feel sorry for herself.
Longstanding and popular myths that twinship is an ideal close relationship is a fantasy that creates shame and misunderstandings for twins who are asked over and over again by onlookers, “How is your brother or sister?”
Honestly saying, “We don’t see each other very often,” creates horror or critical judgments in the eyes of curious onlookers.
“Why not?” outsiders ask. “Twins always get along. I always wanted to be a twin.”
So here is the real story: It is very hard to learn how to get along with your twin. You need to see yourself as different and accept that you are different in real life. Twin A is fatter and prettier. Twin B is thinner and richer. Twin A’s kids and husband are always acting as if she does not matter. Twin B’s children are more respectful and her husband more understanding. While personality styles are not totally black and white, inevitable differences evolve that make twins who they are. And truly these differences are immutable. Getting along with your twin can be a serious effort or even impossible.
Twins are born sharing everything. You could say that twins are born married. Sharing mother and father, siblings, relatives, clothes, toys and friends creates a serious competition. Who is the favored twin? How can I know who is the best reader or soccer player? These competitions go on and on and twins measure themselves against one another as children. Twins actually come to believe what other people think about how they are different. Friends would say to me, “You are the superficial twin with all those boyfriends and M. is the more artistic and deep twin; her husband is a sculptor and your husband is going to be a doctor.”
I believed them and for sure these comments were confusing and not helpful. These outsider comments continued into adulthood. Comparisons only complicate an already vulnerable twin relationship.
There is no doubt in my mind that a true twin dilemma is how to get along with your twin to some extent. The love and quality of parenting you received in childhood will determine how you get along as adults. Chaos and abuse in childhood make the process harder for twins to accept one another.
Still, twins can try to work through their differences. In my personal experience and professional work, having an authentic relationship with your twin is a hard-won battle. As you get older and hopefully gain insight into yourself and your twin, your anger will subside. When you are calm and focused, the emotional direction you want to take to get along with your twin will be clear to you. Disagree or give in or compromise are all viable options for a more authentic twin relationship.