Betrayal: Treacherous Twin Territory

The nontwin public may struggle to understand why a twin’s experience of betrayal is more intense than what a singleton might ever imagine. For many twin pairs, the loss of one’s twin to another relationship is profound. The twin loses more than just exclusive access. He forfeits the sense of security, safety, and love that he has come to depend upon his whole life.

The twin connection is his assurance that all is right with the world and that he can count on the relationship to fulfill his social and emotional needs. He cannot afford to contemplate any outside threat to this arrangement because his integration and happiness rest upon this ongoing arrangement.

A pair of nineteen-year-old identical twin men experienced such a disruption.

Neither had much of a social life in high school. The twins tended to stick together out of habit and comfort. Both were looking forward to attending different colleges. However, similar to other young adults, the pandemic forced them to begin their studies virtually at home. Both enjoyed playing video games and did so online with others. One twin, “Roger,” became friendly with a female gamer, “Adele,” and introduced her to his brother, “Reggie.” Unbeknownst to Roger, Reggie and Adele began to text one another frequently and developed a close relationship. Adele also stayed in touch with Roger but did not divulge her deeper connection to Reggie.

Eventually, Roger uncovered the deception and flew into a rage with his twin. It was at this point that their mother contacted me. Her sons had never fought openly about anything. She noted the pride she felt about having a wonderfully happy family. She could never understand why so many other parents complained about sibling rivalry. She explained that Roger was having the most difficulty. He was depressed, tearful, and shut down; he rejected offers of support from her as well as from Reggie. In fact, he was not talking to his brother at all. This situation made life at home very unsettling, tense, and sad.

Thankfully, I was able to see Roger for several in-person sessions. Eagerly he assimilated the tenets of “twin psychology” to understand why he was so emotionally distraught. Throughout our work together, it came to light that Roger idealized Reggie. Roger was the dominant caretaker in their relationship, happily accommodating Reggie’s wants and needs. He did so without rancor or protest. He honestly felt magnanimous about his willingness to compromise and take a backseat. However, when Reggie’s deceptive affair with Adele surfaced, so did Roger’s pent-up indignation. He related that Reggie’s betrayal was unforgivable and that their bond was forever severed.

In our sessions together, the anger subsided and the sadness surfaced. Roger began to recognize the part that he had played in the twinship. He came to realize how he had compromised himself for the benefit of the twinship. The rift was, in truth, a gift that revealed how his relationship had impacted his identity, sense of self, and self-confidence. Our discussions about his envy of and competition with Reggie contributed to Roger’s feeling of being undermined and ripped off. In one poignant joint session with Reggie, Roger explained many of his feelings and regrets. Reggie listened with patience and compassion.

While the rivalry concerning Adele did last for a couple more months, the twins’ willingness to communicate their feelings about the circumstances facilitated a much needed appreciation for separation and space from each other. Reggie left for a week to visit a relative. It was the first time the boys had ever been apart from each other. They came to realize that the betrayal was not just about Adele. It went much deeper than that. It engendered a treacherous breach in their twinship, compromising their idyllic relationship. Their individuality required definition and direction, and their relatedness needed recalibration.

Often, maturational growth follows a crisis. When expectations and affiliations are modified, an authentic harmony can emerge.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.


  1. Mary Ann Maher

    A thoroughly brilliant article that so illuminates and exposes the layers of nuance involved in the twin connection. Identity, loyalty, co-dependence, separation, maturation, security, trust, expectations, and living in a role rather than an authentic life are seen in this article and in the twin experience. A therapist to twins has to operate at genius level and you certainly do, Joan!!!

  2. When one twin forms a relationship with someone new, this is when the twinship is tested, It can often be hard for the newcomer to come to terms with the importance of the twin. However if they can tolerate this relationship alongside their own, this can make the transition a lot easier. But as Dr. Freeman explains there needs to be a lot of support and insight.along the way.

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