You Are Not Your Twin

Many phone calls and e-mails from twins and their parents are about separation issues that are particular to twins. For their children, parents ask, “When is the best time to separate my children?” And, “What is the best way to develop my children’s individuality?” Obviously, there are no pat answers to these questions. In adulthood, learning to living separate lives can lead to emotional confusion. Getting along as very different people is often a serious problems for twins. Sometimes a twin asks about fighting with their twin or disappointment with their twin, but the core issue that twins ask me about is always related to how they can get along with their twin.

I have spent a lifetime trying to get along with my twin sister. Sometimes I have been successful accepting her way of dealing with me. Sometimes we have been successful getting along. And at other times I have had to distance myself from her. There are no easy answers to creating harmony between twins that I have found as a twin and as a psychologist. Without a doubt, twins have conflicted and complicated relationships because of the power of their bond. Non-twins cannot understand their deep pull toward one another and their deep resentment. Smart parents are certainly in the right when they take separation of their twins as crucial to their children’s happiness and social-emotional well-being.

From my perspective the first thing that you have to do to get along with your twin is to understand that you are very different people. YOU ARE NOT YOUR TWIN. No matter how identical you and your twin appear to be, you are each special and individual. Each twin within a twin pair sees the world through his or her own eyes. Twins share a very deep and primary bond. Fortunately, twins usually have different interests and want to live separate lives. It is natural and healthy for twins to have their own friends when they are feeling self-confident. When life gets tough, twins want the comfort of their twin identity. They may turn to each other for support in times of crisis. Closeness can and will lead to arguments when bad situations are resolved.

Fighting is a result of too much closeness and too much need for mutuality. You and your twin do not have to agree with each other. Essential to a non-combative relationship is respect for one another. Saying this is easy, but holding onto who you are and how you are different from your twin is hard to do. You try to be supportive and understanding, but you can become frustrated with your twin interaction. From my longstanding interest in twin development and the many people I have worked with over the last 30 years, here are some tips that can diffuse the deep entanglements that twins experience:

For Parents

1.  Carefully develop a unique attachment to each of your twins when they are born and as they grow.
2.  Talk to each child about how special they are to you as an individual and as a twin.
3.  Respect your twin children’s deep attachment.
4.  Discipline the child who misbehaves, not the twin pair.
5.  Encourage close helpers such as grandparents, teachers, and nannies to treat your twins as individuals.
6.  Gradually separate your twins, being careful to talk about how they feel being separated.

For Adult Twins

1.  Try to understand your anger at your twin and put your anger into perspective.
2.  Respect your twin’s differences.
3.  Have an objective understanding of how you are different and similar to your twin.
4.  Identify areas of harmony and disharmony.
5.  Look at your anger or feelings of estrangement as a temporary state of mind that can change with time.
6.  Value the harmony you have with one another and try and make that the focus of your adult relationship.