Sadly, in my work with adult twins, I encounter some pairs whose relationship collapsed due to an inability to resolve competition and conflict. In many instances, the primary sticking points are perceived and real inequities among the twins. For example, who is wealthier, who has the bigger house, who has the happier marriage, who has the more successful children, or who is more physically attractive? Of course, different-age siblings might confront similar issues; however, with same-age siblings, the stakes are higher because twins grew up together in an environment replete with ongoing comparisons and competition.
While it may seem counterintuitive, the more successful twin often suffers the weightier consequences. She feels guilty and undeserving in the face of her twin’s misfortunes. She may constantly seek to help her ill-fated twin in hopes of mitigating her uneasiness about their disparity. Unfortunately, in spite of these heroic efforts, she is doomed to fail because her discontented twin will not allow her to feel good about her generosity or well-intentioned concerns. Instead of feeling grateful, the unhappy twin is hellbent on punishing her sister, making it clear that she cannot and will not forgive their disproportionate divide. If the more successful twin does not work through this issue before her sister’s death, the loss can evoke tremendous feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and despair.
For these reasons, getting counseling is important if a patient wants to equip herself to confront these emotional hurdles. The surviving twin will need ample support and preparation to handle the inevitable grief without also experiencing an avalanche of unprocessed shame and remorse. I am an identical twin, I have five adult children, and I am one of four siblings. I am no stranger to the perils and heartbreak that can emerge within intimate relationships due to unresolved conflicts. Our ability to help our children as well as ourselves maneuver through the emotional morass created by major life events is an ongoing maturational challenge for all of us.