A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “I Don’t Want to Be Your Twin Anymore.” It was about my first meeting with 85-year-old identical twin women who sought help to figure out why their relationship had become so contentious and ugly. Couples therapy can work miracles when both participants long for change and harmony. In our second session together, both women demonstrated how beautifully transformations can happen when people have open hearts and open minds.
In our first session, we spent considerable time breaking down what each was angry about. Marlene felt frightened and reluctant about reestablishing a connection with her sister because so many years of frustration and misunderstanding had eroded her hopes for reconciliation. Mabel was forlorn and upset because she was convinced that Marlene would refuse to reconnect with her or try to understand where she was coming from. Notwithstanding, both longed for their twin closeness, and the work they have done together to rekindle the connection has been fast and furious!
In our second session, palpable changes were already evident. Each showed a respect and patience for the other not seen initially. In this hour we had time to delve into their respective roles in their family of origin and in their lives with their own children.
Marlene described a more benevolent attitude about her growing up. She seemed less adversely affected by her mother’s alcoholism and perfectionistic demands. She cared for her mother in her later years without much emotional fanfare. While I believe she did it out of obligation, she did not appear to feel resentful or put upon. Alternatively, Mabel recalled feeling that their mother was highly critical and narcissistic. She remembered her mother saying often, “Is that the best you got?” She said that she and Marlene could not leave the house without smiling and wearing white gloves and black patent leather shoes.
We spent considerable time talking about the emotional burdens that had saddled Mabel for many years. She did not have a supportive husband. She worked four jobs to support her four children. Mabel related that she has not cried since her daughter died 23 years ago. She readily acknowledged that she has not been in touch with her feelings for years. In fact, she admitted she does not even know what many of her feelings are. As Marlene listened to this, she felt compassionate concern for her sister’s struggles. Mabel also acknowledged that she interpreted many of her sister’s communications as hostile or negative when, in reality, Marlene was not feeling that way at all.
A psychoanalytic approach is very useful because examining childhood experiences and feelings is necessary to have a grounded understanding of present-day conflicts. Marlene and Mabel have very distinct personalities shaped by their divergent life experiences and early emotional interactions. In recognizing this, each has gained respect and patience for the other. Instead of viewing each other through their restricted twin lens, they now have a more expanded and mature view of each other’s emotional world. Conflict can be managed alongside a beautiful twin connection.