Twin Closeness: A Deep and Often Misunderstood Attachment

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I am certain from my research and consulting that twins share a deep attachment that is very different from a sibling attachment. For very good reasons, helping nontwins understand twin closeness and twin sharing is extremely difficult to do. The twin bond is very close and most often includes a nonverbal form of communication. Idealization of twinship by the general public makes the exploration of twinship more difficult and frequently misunderstood. A twin’s early life is an untold story, because twins cannot talk well enough to explain their experiences as young children and because the focus of onlookers is tilted toward the idealization of twinship.

In my personal and professional experience, there seems to be very little interest or concern about the actual manner in which twins interact, unless you are in the middle of one of their serious disagreements. Later, fighting becomes almost like a courtroom conflict over right and wrong. One twin told me she thought, after she and her twin were both in another world—the afterlife—that they would learn who was right and who was wrong. I did not share that I did not agree that there would be a final answer. However, her statement reflects the depth of her belief about being more right than her sister.

Childhood lived twin experiences and twins’ emotional reactions to one another can lead parents to profound confusion because of the twins’ outlandish love-hate relationship. Most adult twin relationships are not analyzed. Even psychotherapy does not acknowledge twinship as a unique developmental experience. I have heard so many therapists say, “Twins are just close siblings.” Some illustrative twin relationships are often the tangential focus of novels, films, and art. Even with a lack of so-called research, it is undeniable that twinship is a profound relationship and an irreplaceable one.

Twin attachment, which is very complex, affects all aspects of psychological development. Twin attachment is as primary as the mother-child attachment. The twin bond develops as twin children grow. Closeness creates a natural interdependence that will be strongly affected by separation anxiety from infancy onward. As twins learn to be apart, separation issues will vary depending upon the stage of life that twins are experiencing. Missing your twin is inevitable. Twins who lose their sister or brother at birth report a strong feeling of separation anxiety and a sense of loss and emptiness. Twin loss at any age is a complicated and traumatic life event that can create depression and anxiety for the surviving twin. Overcoming twin loss is a very long and stressful process for the lone twin.

Early Individual Development

Very early in life, twins begin to see themselves as individuals as well as twins. Whether or not they can explain their feelings about individuality, the seeds of a life experience without their twin grows and becomes part of the twin’s sense of self. Fighting is an early sign of wanting to be different or to get what a person wants. Fighting can be seen as a sign of identity development. Fighting is a spoken and unspoken interaction that is juxtaposed with deep closeness. As twins grow, they often feel ashamed and guilty that they want and can take what the other twin has. Another problematic closeness issue that occurs is loneliness when sharing is not possible and being together is also impossible. Sharing for twins is a sign that they are developing a harmonious relationship that is not easily replaced. However, sharing can breed too much closeness. The balance between closeness and individuality is always alive in the minds and hearts of twins.

Friendships Disrupting Twin Closeness

For better or worse, when new friends develop a relationship with one twin, closeness and harmony can be challenged, especially if the less-favored twin feels jealous or replaced by the new friend. Favoritism also happens with family such as brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. Obviously, favoritism that is covert or overt creates tension between twins. How to prevent these types of experiences is impossible to comment on in a general way. Suffice it to say, talking about and dealing with new-friend favoritism and family favoritism is really essential and usually sufficient to prevent serious emotional stress.

Has There Been an Overfocus on Individual Development?

I am often concerned about the mechanical view of giving twins individual experiences as if this action will solve all of the twins’ problems with separation anxiety. Yes, a focus on individual identity needs to occur. But the closeness of the twin attachment needs to be understood with equal determination. In the olden days of twin research, psychologists talked about the dominant twin in a very cold, sterile, and unimaginative way—that there was one dominant twin and one nondominant twin. Of course not. Each twin has different strengths and weaknesses that need to be understood. The importance of looking at differences cannot be underestimated as it may be the key to understanding deep twin attachment. While the labels of dominance and nondominance may be too basic, looking for differences and understanding and reflecting upon them is extremely useful. For example, one twin may be more dominant socially and the other twin may be more dominant academically.

Advice for Limiting Too Much Closeness and Interdependence

  1. Learn about twin attachment and take twin closeness very seriously because it is serious.
  2. Talk about times when twins will be apart and help them find coping strategies.
  3. When friends and family use favoritism, ask them to stop.
  4. Ask yourself, why is closeness so important to twins?
  5. Provide as many separate experiences for your twins as are reasonable.

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