Twin Love: Too Late, Too Little, Too Much?

Twins who are surrogate parents for each other play a vital role in the absence of attuned adult caretakers. They ensure each other’s emotional stability for the majority of their formative years. Depending upon individual circumstances, the outcome can be positive or detrimental.

I have worked with both male and female twin pairs who attribute their emotional survival to their twinship. This loving and precious connection can be tested when both twins acknowledge without rancor that this ongoing arrangement no longer serves their developmental needs. Both desire a more individuated life and work together to build that for themselves. However, some older twins find themselves stymied by their circumstances and eager to find a healthier avenue.

An identical twin man in his forties described his situation. He and his brother are good friends, amicable business partners, and close twins. Mark has been in a romantic relationship for five years, while his brother broke up with his girlfriend a few years ago. Mark candidly shared with me that he knows he has difficulty committing to a relationship because of his twin history. Committing is tricky because he feels anxious about being swallowed up and simultaneously fearful of abandonment. He relates that he cannot really be himself with anyone except his brother. He recognizes that he avoids conflict and overaccommodates to keep the peace. He does not feel his girlfriend knows him in the same way his brother knows and understands him. He worries about his emotional future in light of these many emotional obstacles.

He explained that he and his brother were left on their own with two older brothers and a mother who was overwhelmed and depressed. She was disappointed that she did not give birth to a daughter, and their dad was away much of the time due to his work. Mark related that he and his brother intrinsically understood that misbehaving would surely burden their mother. So their role was to take care of her the best that they could. These childhood circumstances left both Mark and his brother without an opportunity to evolve into their separate selves.

While both have cherished the loving parts of their relationship, they realize that they have been handicapped by their twinship dynamics, feeling emotionally inept to form other intimate relationships. If Mark has an opportunity to explore his early childhood experiences around the merged circumstances with his brother, perhaps he can unlock some of the troubling feelings that hinder his attachment needs.

Photo by Pete Markham, CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)

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