Communicating as Two Separate People

A young woman in her thirties, whom I will call Martha, grew up in a volatile household. Her twin, Marsha, was her security, safety, and protection from an abusive mother and nasty older sisters. Martha was devoted to her twin and never entertained the notion that one day Marsha would want or need space from her. This unexpected predicament occurred after they graduated from high school. Martha had assumed they would live together and attend the same university. So she was completely taken off guard when these expectations did not materialize. Martha related that she was deeply depressed during her college years as she felt alone and abandoned.

Eventually, both women married and pursued their independent careers. Yet Martha never fully recovered from the separation. The twins’ communication lessened considerably over time. Martha sought treatment because she was desperate to reconnect with Marsha but was stymied by feelings of fear, betrayal, and anger.

Martha described a pattern of relating that happened frequently when she did speak to Martha. Marsha would begin the conversation by talking about herself. When Martha tried to participate in the conversation and share things about her life, she felt that Marsha seemed disinterested and distracted. At the slightest hint of this misattunement, Martha went into emotional overdrive. She described it to me as follows:

  • She did not hear what I said.
  • She is self-centered and preoccupied.
  • She does not care about me.
  • She is competing with me.
  • I am enraged with her.
  • I need her to need me.
  • I feel like a vulnerable, disgusting, unlovable person who will be abandoned again.

Eventually, owing in large part to their separate individual psychotherapy, each woman developed the emotional capability and safety to be able to say how the other’s behavior made her feel. In fact, they decided to use a certain code word to signal that one or both were feeling hurt and needed to be heard. Perhaps this is their love language—the way they can alert each other as to how they feel and then navigate through the distressed feelings to arrive at some sort of mutual understanding.

This strategy can work if both twins feel like separate individuals who can listen to the perspective of another as well as take responsibility for their feelings. If not, the conversation will just become a useless blame game where neither person can feel like a winner or be heard.

Photo by Ivan Samkov, Pexels

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