Parents who have adult children involved with partners whom they dislike know better than to share unsolicited opinions. Perhaps they learned through earlier mishaps or were advised by close friends that disclosing unwanted judgments or advice can cement their son or daughter’s commitment to what is perceived as an ill-fated outcome.
This quandary became the topic of conversation with an identical twin gentleman in his fifties whom I will call Kurt. He contacted me because he was feeling estranged from his brother. He provided me with the details of their last interactions. It seemed clear to me that Kurt was treating his brother like a child rather than a same-age sibling. Unbeknownst to Kurt, he was unabashedly telling his brother that he did not approve of certain decisions the brother made regarding his family life. When I tactfully shared this observation and compared Kurt’s behavior to parents who unwittingly defame their children’s partners, he paused and reflected.
With a sigh of relief and an appreciative sensibility, Kurt replied that I was absolutely right. We talked about how easily twins can slip into a parental dynamic with each other because they know one another better than anyone else. In fact, many twins were and still are available to each other far more than their parents were. For these reasons and others, which space does not permit, this caretaking familiarity is often taken as justification to freely give gratuitous guidance.
In our follow-up chat, Kurt thanked me profusely. Lost in his habitual twin connection, he had not realized how paternalistic he sounded. Fortunately, Kurt consciously shifted into a different mindset with his brother. His brother intuitively sensed the change, and their connection radically improved. As Vivienne Lewin discusses in her book The Twin Enigma, twinship is not a developmental bond. Thus, if twins become surrogate parents for one another, it may be difficult for them to recognize when a parental approach to their twin might put the relationship on perilous footing.