Twins and Triangulation

In my work with adult twins, I often notice a tendency to manage conflict by engaging a third party. For example, an adult man channels his contempt for his brother by communicating this feeling to his twin’s wife. He seems not to understand that this puts his sister-in-law in a bind. Should she be loyal to her husband or to her brother-in-law? Another young identical twin man introduces a female friend to his brother. Unbeknownst to him, the brother develops romantic feelings for this woman. As a result, both brothers are triangulated in their relationship with this young woman, with catastrophic repercussions for all. Finally, a female identical twin in her twenties who is estranged from her sister constantly talks to another family member about their conflicts and seems to deliberately air dirty laundry to implicate her sibling.

Triangulation can occur in any relationship pair, including family members, friends, romantic couples, and coworkers. It occurs frequently in twins since they are a well-honed dyad. This dynamic recruits a third person into the relationship so one member of the pair can remain in control. The triangulator controls communication between the two triangulatees. While triangulation may appear in different forms, the desired outcome is to divide and conquer. This is a highly effective strategy to gain an advantage over perceived rivals by manipulating them into conflicts with one another.

Over time, triangulation alienates the twins even further as their conflicts spill over into other intimate relationships. What appears as sharing confidences with a third party is essentially tattling on the other sibling. Basically, one tries to justify one’s feelings by persuading an outsider to take one’s side. If you find that your relationship with your twin is heading in a precarious direction, find a therapist who can help you confront your issues together. Sometimes, all each sibling needs is to be heard within a safe space. While not every difficulty can be resolved, counseling can create an avenue for more direct cooperation and authentic communication in relationships.

Image is in the public domain courtesy of Dennis Sylvester Hurd

1 Comment

  1. Mary

    In my relationship with my twin sister, my mother was almost always the the triangulator. It got really old hearing what my mom thought about my sister’s husband or some of her life choices. My sister has occasionally bought into the triangulation, it’s a very counter productive way to deal with emotions and conflict.

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