Save my Twinship
November 1, 2020 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Disclaimer: I've written this question and deleted it several times. It's the most difficult thing I've ever pondered. I have talked to my doctor but the other side of this equation lives 250 miles away and doesnt have access to insurance. I know you are not my therapists so just use as empathetic (cont)

and brutally honest an ear as you can
There is a toxic dynamic that exists between my identical twin sister and myself that has been the case since childhood (we are 49). It has infuriated me that she chose friendships to bond to deeply instead of me, used free time to hang out with them and ignored me until she needed something (which I would always provide) or made huge decisions like moving across the country without consulting me or letting me know. It's like she has one relationship to me that is opposite to the one I have with her. She has unapologetically slept with past boyfriends, (in the past, but very recently to those breakups) a.fact I had to hear about from the men while still taking no shame in engaging in friendships with current boyfriends behind my back (mostly because we are fighting constantly). I've written her off as of lately because her primary modus operandi seems to be harp on the rude names I've called her in the past to showcase her weakened self esteem while at the same time distancing herself from the reasons I used the words to hold her accountable for her heartless persona. I have always felt she comes off as cold and self centered but tried to share life events and birthdays with her because she is my sister. The final straw was an argument we had where she complained about how slow her unemployment claim was taking so I told her to call a particular number and she says in a snob tone she didnt need me to tell her that info because she already knew it and I was treating her like she was stupid. I see this argument and most of her rants as over dramatic and attempts to look like the victim of some untrue scheme plotted against her instead of just taking stock of the context so she never has to apologize for anything she does or says and its infuriating. I need advice on a few key words to avoid or use in order to have a more productive relationship with her. I'm very abrasive when her when we fight but I dont want to be I just get so annoyed she takes all the sympathy and never the responsibility. Is there a different approach I can use when I feel this way?
posted by The_imp_inimpossible to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sibling relationships vary so much. Some people are best friends with their siblings, some are friendly acquaintances who can pass an hour or two together, others do not keep in touch at all. Any and all of those can be healthy ways to be.

It sounds to me like your relationship with your sister is not making you happy. Have you considered putting more metaphorical distance between you? There is nothing specifically you need to do "because she is your sister", nor is there anything she specifically needs to do "because you are her sister". Your relationship is not defined by the genes that you share but whether on balance you enjoy having her in your life and being in her life. Maybe you would be happier expecting less from her, giving less to her and generally enjoying your relationships and friendships with other people who do make you happy.
posted by plonkee at 4:04 PM on November 1, 2020 [18 favorites]

This sounds like a mix of unreasonable expectations, unfulfilled expectations, mismatched expectations, and behavior that defies expectations.

I do think it's unreasonable for you to expect your sister to choose to bond with you over others when it comes to friendship. As plonkee mentions there are many ways for siblings to interact and closeness isn't always expected. Your sister is free to choose her spend her free time with her friends over family.

But I understand your sadness and disappointment at not having the relationship you expect from your sister. You want something that she is unwilling or unable to give. That must be very painful.

You both have mismatched expectations about what the sibling relationship should/could be and it doesn't seem like you can both get those expectations any closer.

Her behavior with your ex and current boyfriends, however, defies expectations. That is not the behavior of a sister or a friend. I would be pissed. It smacks of some deep dysfunction.

I think you need to detach from you sister. She isn't capable of being the sister or friend you need or want You need to come to terms with your disappointment with either therapy or a close friend. Perhaps if you can drastically lower your expectations and keep more distance her behavior will rankle less and you will be less apt to react abrasively to her.
posted by brookeb at 4:23 PM on November 1, 2020 [17 favorites]

I don't know if anyone providing a few key words is going to help you much, since it seems like both you and your twin have serious issues.

If you want to have a better relationship with your sister, I think a good starting place would be to dial back your expectations of her. In every relationship, one has to give the other person room to decide how close they want the relationship to be, how much time and effort they want to put into it, etc. One doesn't get to demand those things. If your sister wants to be closer to some of her friends than she is to you, or spend more time with them, or move 250 miles away from you, that's her right, and it is a right you have to respect even if you wanted something different from her. She is her own person and she gets to decide what her priorities are and to order her own life, just as you do.

That doesn't mean you have to put up with actual bad treatment, but make sure you can distinguish between actual bad treatment (i.e., things like lying or standing you up or insults or name calling, or yes, sleeping with your boyfriends or only contacting you when she wants something) and your sister just living her life in a way you don't happen to like (i.e., her deciding to spend your shared birthday with other people than you, or not calling you very often, or making life decisions on her own).

Maybe you could let her set the pace of the relationship for awhile. For example, you might decide to only call her or email her as often as she calls or emails you, and to let her initiate birthday or other celebrations or visits. It will probably mean that you won't have as much contact with her as you would have liked, but it will mean that what contact you do is happening because you both want it to and are both putting in the effort to make it happen. And you can use that freed-up emotional space to work on yourself with your therapist, and to become more centred in your own life and responsible for your own emotions instead of focusing so much on your sister and what she can't or won't give you.
posted by orange swan at 4:28 PM on November 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, I agree with the others that expectations are key. But I will also throw in a couple visual illustrations that try and show this point (from the book ABCs of Emotions by Lynn Clark): #1 and #2. The author believes that "musterbation" (note carefully the spelling) is dangerous to our emotional health, i.e. believing that others "must" do things. Sometimes a picture's worth a thousand words.
posted by forthright at 4:40 PM on November 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

I know where you are coming from.

She is not just a sister, she is your identical twin sister. Once upon a time, you two were one. You shared a uterus for nine months.

I wish I had some easy advice to give you, but I am very close to my twin brother; our disagreements and personality conflicts are intense when they happen, but so not last long. I have to wonder if this is a sisters thing?

I am going to suggest just breaking things off for awhile. You've always been there for her. Maybe she needs to learn what it's like when her twin sister is not there for venting and everything else?
posted by Fukiyama at 4:42 PM on November 1, 2020

I'm curious since you say you've always (or since childhood) interacted this way, why you think things should or could be different? That is, are you getting messages from elsewhere (other family, social media, your own friends) that the two of you should be closer?

Because to me, the above comments have some resonance, with these key words or phrases:

- set expectations ("My sister is a bad friend; I wish it were otherwise but it's not")
- detach, this relationship is not giving you what you need except in some abstract "I should be close to my sister" vague way
- ask yourself what you think it is that is keeping you in a cycle like this, and what it might take to break the cycle that the two of you are in? (specifically, what could YOU do since one thing you can't do is make other people behave differently if they have not agreed to be in that kind of relationship with you)

One thing that has been helpful to me when managing intense relationships that happened to also not be good for me was the understanding that even fighting was continuing the relationship. And you may need to take a break from this one for a while, so you can come back to it with new eyes.
posted by jessamyn at 4:48 PM on November 1, 2020 [8 favorites]

Just wanting to clarify here — did she sleep with your ex-boyfriends or her ex-boyfriends?
posted by mekily at 4:49 PM on November 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

This sucks, because it obviously hurts, but you are dreaming of a relationship that does not exist and are not owed, even though you are siblings and twins. Every time you get mad and fight with her, you're fighting with the idea of a person who isn't doing what you want rather than meeting your actual sister where she is. You think there's a magic word you can say to finally finally finally get the response from her that you need.

There's not. You can't make her be who you want or need her to be. You will have to find some other way to achieve peace with the situation.

And you can't expect a person to just take it and like it or bend to your will because you call them names. Honestly, y'all both sound kind of unpleasant in these situations you describe. But you can't take her to therapy, you can only go yourself and focus on you, and you should. There is a lot of relationship insight you can find there that might very well let you have at least a meaningful connection with her and some peace for yourself, even if it looks nothing like the relationship you have expected and not been given all your life.

You've had 50 years and your current methodology is not working; try something else instead of continuing to bang your head into that same wall over and over.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:15 PM on November 1, 2020 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: This is the perfect abstract perspective I needed. I want to send a link to her so she can see that although I'm sad but dont blame her for things her life planned out for her. And the truth is yes, by default of the tight knit family we are in our bickering has become a source of angst to our siblings and parents so much that they arent allowed to mention the others name when we talk. I did have a idealized preset fantasy of our bond so behaved accordingly until I began to see her loyalties shift to not only away from me but in stark opposition to me. Its one thing to not be close but to feel she views me as an enemy to destroy is hard to take. I will need to learn not to expect anything of her going forward and re-evaluate her current standing as acquaintance at best and just hope for pleasant interactions from now on without her actions to use as fuel. She was important to me because she is my sister but I will stop demanding she fit my mold of what that means. Thank you guys so much
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 5:32 PM on November 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: @Mekily- they were my ex boyfriends she slept with very soon after we broke up.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 5:34 PM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

250 miles is the perfect distact for hand written letters.
posted by at at 6:21 PM on November 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

did have a idealized preset fantasy of our bond so behaved accordingly until I began to see her loyalties shift to not only away from me

I think this is a way our society views twinship that really fucks us up--if we don't fall into the preset expectations of what being a twin is like, which have largely been set by the media or by people who aren't twins but who've known some twins, we think we're being twins wrong. I spent years trying to create a separate identity from my twin sister and she kind of mostly disliked me, but from every other corner of our lives, we were expected to be one mind and heart (we even were given gifts to share, like, one gift that would be shared between us, I'm serious).

Things got a bit better when she moved a thousand miles away, but not always, especially like, for example, when my mom got sick. Our relationship wasn't nearly as toxic as yours sounds, but it was hard, and we were very different despite being identicals. Even when my sister was dying, I had to kind of fight against her negative feelings about me in order to take care of her, and that left me pretty fucked up.

I think disengaging from the fantasy of what your bond should be is the first step, and taking some time away from things will help you maybe suss out what you might want going forward. When we're told all the time that twins are this and that, and we only see one narrative of what twinship entails in media portrayals, we end up with a lot to unpack about our own actual lives. Find out what you want in your life first, what you want your identity to be, and then gradually work her back into your life if you think it's worth it. This is one place where time is on your side. And if it doesn't work in the end? That's okay too. Real life twins are full of complicated, messy stories and not all of us are meant to be one ultra close entity.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:34 PM on November 1, 2020 [13 favorites]

First of all, I'm so sorry. I'm not a twin, but I do know that conflict with a sibling can be so painful, and it must be even worse with the pressure from society from being twins. It's so sad that you have struggled with this for so long. I'm glad you're talking about it.

You mentioned that you've spoken to your doctor, but have you spoken to a therapist? Because I feel like you have positioned this question to be about her, but there is a LOT of work you can do on yourself to help this situation.

I think seeing a therapist to unpick all this would do you so much good, but on the chance that you can't, for some reason, I'm going to suggest a few things to think about, and perhaps attempt to change your own perspective on:

It has infuriated me that she chose friendships to bond to deeply instead of me

Do you feel like you haven't made as many friends as her, or that you relied on her for friendship? Would you like to have more close friends in your life right now?

It's like she has one relationship to me that is opposite to the one I have with her.

How do you think she would describe her relationship with you? How would that differ from how you describe yours with her?

I've written her off as of lately because her primary modus operandi seems to be harp on the rude names I've called her in the past to showcase her weakened self esteem while at the same time distancing herself from the reasons I used the words to hold her accountable for her heartless persona.

Name calling is something that takes us back to our childlike responses to things. Do you feel like something about your relationship with her is making you feel like a child, or a loss of control that makes you feel that way? Do you feel like this outside of your relationship with her? Were you called names as a kid? How did it make you feel? How would you have liked people to talk to you instead of name-calling?

I see this argument and most of her rants as over dramatic and attempts to look like the victim

Do you think she truly feels like a victim? Do you also feel like a victim in these conversations? How might you support each other and help each other to feel more heard and understood? "Active listening" is something you might like to read about to help with this.

I'm very abrasive when her when we fight but I dont want to be I just get so annoyed she takes all the sympathy and never the responsibility. Is there a different approach I can use when I feel this way?

Absolutely! Getting "abrasive" is a defence mechanism - you're using it because you feel unsafe. It sounds like she makes you feel a lot of things when you talk, but the good news is that you are in control of that. You can decide to end a conversation with her, if you want. You can decide to take some time away from your relationship with her, to heal and build up your own self esteem and/or boundaries. A therapist will really help with this, but you can also do it yourself.

This answer has got super long so I will finish up here, but in summary:

- This relationship sounds really hard, there is a lot you can do to help it, but almost all of that will be work that you do on yourself and your own perspective

- Question how you feel when you talk to her or interact. Probe it, explore it. Try and be really honest with yourself about why you are feeling certain things, even if it takes a while to understand

- Remind yourself that both of you appear to feel victimised, hurt, and unsupported. Be kind to yourself, and remind yourself that both of you are suffering.

- Give yourself permission to take a break from this if you need it
posted by greenish at 2:02 AM on November 2, 2020 [5 favorites]

Gotta say, the way your family is reacting is pretty messed up. Putting all that pressure on you two to be happy twins, one heart and one soul? Freaking out over your fighting and making it your burden to make it right?

It makes me wonder how much of your sister's antagonism against you is her way of fighting back against these family expectations. Of asserting herself as an individual.

Perhaps there is a way for you two to unite against this dynamic? As in: "Mom, butt out of our non-relationship. That's between sis and me." (Are you venting to them and involving them that way in something that is none of their business? If so... stop.)

It sounds like your sister feels like you look down on her (she reacted badly to your advice on unemployment). She feels belittled by you in the past (calling her names). She certainly knows you don't like her personality, which you call cold and selfish. And she certainly acted like an asshole towards you.

Do you maybe have something of an overachiever/underachiever or golden child/black sheep dynamic going on? Where you are each playing the good kid / bad kid roles that were foisted on you in childhood and fight for recognition that way? If so, you'll have to break out of that mold if you want any relationship with her.

Can you explore the idea of "maybe my sister is just an asshole and I will live my life without engaging with her (much). Just like with any other asshole I have to see from time to time."

To be clear, she may not be an asshole. Maybe once you get away from all that dysfunction, you two can be real, honest and friendly towards one another. But I think you need to be okay with letting go of her before you can rebuild a new and different relationship with her. You need to be able to think the unthinkable that "maybe she is just a jerk I used to know" and be okay with that inside.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:36 AM on November 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Both of my sisters play tons of control games. Lots of manipulation. One sister does it by being absurdly bossy and has engaged in some sketchy money transaction in the family. She doesn't need money, it's a form of control. The other is passive aggressive and does a lot of micro-aggressions. She's bi-polar and a hot mess. I limit my time with them.

In general, I am working on pushing back on micro-aggressions. It's not easy, and is very stressful, so as I identify people who play dominance games, I avoid them. Humans pursue dominance by nature, but we can choose to behave in a more evolved way.
posted by theora55 at 6:20 AM on November 2, 2020

I don't have any specific books or media to suggest you seek out, but I suspect you can find more nuanced documentation on twin development and relationships now compared to when you were a child or young adult. Every post-20s twin I've ever known has had at best a complicated relationship to their sibling even if they did have a very close childhood and even if they would describe their adult relationship as close. Most of them did not have perfect breezy twin childhoods, though, starting in elementary school; it can be incredibly challenging - socially, educationally, in access to parental resources, with regard to individual identity development - to have a sibling even very close in age.

Something you might approach your sister with is a proposal to try to spend a year or two quietly - as in keep the rest of your family out of it - rebuilding an adult relationship, with as much "water under the bridge"/clean slate mentality as both of you can manage. That means you need to keep it to yourself if you observe she has low self esteem or other common maladies of women in modern society - maybe one day the two of you can talk about your mental health and existential pains as allies and friends and sisters, that would be a great goal, but you don't get to bully her about the weaknesses you see in her. You should treat her as an adult with her own set of traumas and strengths, and as someone with a remarkably similar but not identical growing-up experience as you. That also means you can mind your own boundaries - you can control how much information about yourself as a grown adult you want to give to her, as you would any new friend or colleague you are slowly building intimacy with. You can't assume 100% intimacy from the first second just because you're twins (or even siblings, or just related), that can only last for so long into early childhood, and it is right and necessary for identities to diverge at that point for the rest of your lives, even though you will also have a great deal in common. You may eventually find yourself a allied force against the machinations of your family of origin, too, if they're as nosy and gossipy as they sound from your description.

Your relationship can be rebuilt - a lot of siblings do this in middle age, I think, as life forces perspective - but it needs to be a very respectful, avoiding-button-pushing process.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:51 AM on November 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

As someone who has a non-relationship with one of my siblings, I understand how sad and scary it can be to contemplate a schism. We are not twins, but were super close for years as we grew up.

I think you need to realize that, other than being related, there is no reason you have to “a more productive relationship” with her. There is no law that says siblings or twins are to be close and loving. You need to not really care to much about what she says or does. This takes some time, but is achievable.

For the story about the phone call, maybe you were being condescending, maybe you were trying to be helpful, it doesn’t matter. If she is pushing enough buttons to make it impossible to have good interactions, you are free to detach. It is as if you keep knocking on a door, someone comes and slams it in your face every time. Stop knocking on the door!

I did, like you, struggle with a lot of anger about the situation being unfair and the sister not being accountable, “getting away” with bad actions, etc.. I also, at times, did resort to name calling and acting in ways I did not like. That always made me feel gross, and doubly upset. Stopping contact was the healthiest thing for me, although painful at first.

I did get pressure from our mother to “be nice”, and “not hold a grudge”, which was beyond infuriating. I eventually learned to calmly refuse engaging when my mother brought it up, firmly redirecting the conversation. (This pretty much saved my relationship with my mother, which was very precarious at times due to sister being a manipulative liar.)

In other words, I learned to establish a boundary and protect myself. It ended many of the residual childhood dynamics I had willingly continued that were comfortable but limiting. With my sister out of the picture, it freed up some space in my life-mentally, emotionally, etc..

It was a huge growing experience, and I’m a stronger person with a good sense of self now, and even have compassion for the sister, despite all the harm she caused.
Good luck.
posted by rhonzo at 8:56 AM on November 2, 2020

I have a very superficial relationship with my brother and that’s unlikely to change. It’s ok not to be best buddies with siblings, twins or otherwise. So explore that idea a bit. Having very low expectations helps a lot. If my brother manages to wish me a happy birthday I am floored.

Family dynamics outside the siblings in question can complicate things. It’s not clear if you get a lot of pressure to ‘get closer’ with your twin or if there is just sadness and walking on eggshells so as not to contribute to the dynamic between the two of you inadvertently.

If there is pressure you’ll need to work on boundaries. If there is sadness and avoidance then they need to work their way through that. Best you can do is not take the bait when she tries to start an argument. That doesn’t mean your sister gets to treat you poorly- again boundaries- but you don’t have to engage and give her an opening.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:18 AM on November 2, 2020

I have a fraternal twin and even then feel the societal expectations of twinship. I think I used to feel them too. My mother belonged to a Mothers of Twins club and we used to get shared birthday gifts. I sometimes thought I was special and other times resented that people compared us. But we differentiated ages ago, his doing but I'm now happy. I think that's what your sister is doing, but in a dysfunctional way. You have a chance to do it in a healthy way. I think your family also needs to say to both of you "enough, we aren't changing ourselv family conversations and events to accommodate your ongoing rift".
posted by DixieBaby at 11:07 AM on November 2, 2020

It sounds like you both have hurt each other a lot, and you haven't repaired those hurts, so new hurts keep piling on top of others. You're looking for her to apologize for the hurt she did, and she's looking for you to apologize for the names you've called her in the past. I think you need to start thinking about how you were wrong, too. I think you have expectations of how your relationship should be based on the fact that you are twins, and I think it's time to let go of all of that. Pretend she is just another person in the world. Do you like her? Do you value her as someone in your life? If not, maybe it's time to take some space.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:49 AM on November 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

My sister and I are not twins but we still occasionally are mistaken for twins.

One of the biggest things I ever realised as an adult is that I am not responsible for her. I don't need to hold her accountable, I don't need to inform her about things she probably already knows, I don't need to make her responsible for anything. I am the eldest so that's the role I got given but after one phone call where she lost it at me for telling her something she already knew, I realised that it is unsustainable in adulthood (and sucked as kids).

Having other friends, moving, not running life plans past you? That isn't your place to hold in her life, to judge and make decisions for her. Sleeping with your exes? Well, they are an ex and it sounds as much like lashing out as anything else.

And the more you push and complain and try insist on a specific kind of relationship the worse it will get. My ex's family once insisted that I should have talked over my job applications with them since moving out of state was not something I was 'allowed' to do. It was a joke, or said as a joke, but from then on I never ever trusted they had my best interests at heart. So I didn't talk about my plans with them.

Be yourself, by yourself. Stop expecting your sister to fill a role and a space.
posted by geek anachronism at 10:51 PM on November 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Warning: very long.

Geek anachronism nails it 100%.

the more you push and complain and try insist on a specific kind of relationship the worse it will get.
Quoted for truth. And what they said about trust. As I was reading your post, I was thinking, do you trust your sister? Do you think she trusts you? If no, then what kind of healthy relationship can you have?

I can appreciate how hard it was to write this post. There is something about sister relationships that is really challenging and even I don’t know how to put it into words. Something about female relationships, plus family dynamics/expectations/obligations and you get this weird pattern that I’ve seen a couple of times so far.

Anyway, I (41F) have an older sister by 5 years who died last year from cancer (rest in power) at age 46. I’m totally projecting but the way that I felt when I read your post, is the way that felt around her for most of our lives. She was very overbearing, and she also pushed for a specific kind of relationship and felt like she didn’t care to really know me, she just wanted me to fill a specific role. I feel like that’s what you’re doing to your sister, and she probably resents the hell out of it, like I did. So I did the only thing I felt I could do: avoid her as much as possible. Don’t engage. Sad, isn’t it.

It was only when she had cancer could we really start talking, because that enabled her to see how messed up her relationship to our mom was. My sister told me that she was mom’s emotional dumping ground since she was 12 (not those exact words, that’s my interpretation), and that suddenly explained SO much to me. This was why it always felt like my sister was speaking on behalf of mom and acting as her agent towards me. Because that was the role that mom had given to her, and I don’t think my sister was even fully aware of that. How could she be? That was her role since she was a kid. In short, she was parentified.

Both my sister and I had a lot of trauma – our mom was abused by dad which we had to witness. My sister seemed to expect me to have a similar view with her about that and it seemed like she didn’t quite understand that I’m a different person, and that I have my own thoughts about that. That was weird to experience and I kind of had to set her straight and tell her, “I have different thoughts from you? They’re just as valid as yours?” Seems obvious, but to her, for whatever reason, it wasn’t. One email that I sent to her was to say, you know what, I’m not going to be what you want. I’m not going to be good enough for you. Speaking my truth to her felt powerful for sure. She wrote back and said something like, I only want you to be yourself. I thought, um, ok, not sure if I believe that. But it only showed me how unaware she was of her impact on me. Maybe this is how your sister feels around you/the rest of the family and she’s not able to speak her truth yet. I don’t know if you are able to either, tbh. That doesn’t make you a bad person though, just a flawed human being like the rest of us.

Like you, she always wanted a specific kind of relationship with me and I just wasn’t having any of that. When she had cancer, I finally realized I had needed her to deal with her own traumas all along, which she wasn’t aware of until it was too late. And I wasn’t aware of that either. It’s a shitty situation all around. It’s too late to do anything about it now, since she’s passed on. Looking back on it now, I can see that her thoughts and behaviours were informed by trauma throughout our lives. I wasn’t aware of it, nor was she. I only became aware of that when she had cancer. It’s really hard to put into words how I became aware. I just think about it, and when I apply a trauma lens to it, it makes sense. I can’t tell you how to learn about trauma as well and apply a trauma lens to your situation, because I don’t know how I did it. At some point, it was just something that I knew. I’m sorry I can’t be more helpful in that regard. Talking to a therapist helped a bit, and talking to friends who were knowledgeable about trauma (through their own experience and being in therapy) helped. It’s sad to say, but I feel like my sister and I didn’t have a chance. Traumatic childhood, very traumatized mom (who isn’t aware of her traumas either), she had to take care of my sister who used a wheelchair, so that was difficult. The family dynamics were pretty messed up, to say the least. Where is my dad in all of this? My parents are still married, they do their own things and they seem to coexist ok together. I kind of hate that my dad suffers no consequences from the amount of trauma he’s caused us, but he was abused by his mom as a kid too.

She wanted to have an emotionally intimate relationship and when I read that in an email from her, I mentally snorted and thought yeah right. She was part of my family. Family was a big source of pain for me, especially mom’s harsh treatment of me, and her seemingly easy relationship with my sister. So why would I be able to, or have a close relationship with my sister? She was not a safe person for me. I didn’t fully realize that, nor did she. It sounds like you and your twin are not safe for each other either, and yet for whatever reason, you have this idea of what your relationship should be. It’s worth asking yourself whether that truly comes from * you * or is something you think you should do because of your family. From your update, it sounds like the latter – that you’re sick of the problems your sister is causing your tight-knit family. Maybe she is truly a horrible person and won’t ever change. Maybe she is still acting out something, and if so, it’s worth paying attention to that, even though her actions may be really fucked up.

I think you should talk to a therapist about your sister, and about your family dynamics, especially this: “to feel she views me as an enemy to destroy is hard to take.” I bet she has reasons for that, and there’s probably a lot YOU can do to change that for her. (See geek anachronism’s comment again about not being responsible for your sister. My sister probably felt that way about me, as something she had to do for mom.) Look at how you talk about her in your post – would you want someone talking about you that way? You want a productive relationship with her – do you think the way you think and talk about her is productive? Have you ever really listened to her, and her experiences in your family? (And yet she probably wouldn’t feel safe telling you those things.) What kind of pressures and expectations were put on you, and her? What kind of relationship did she have with the rest of the family? Why do you think she did the things that she did? Truth is, you may never really know what her experience was like of your family.

You have to be really, really honest with yourself. You’re asking your sister to be accountable, but you need to be too (you called her names, but it seems like you feel justified in that without thinking about how hurtful they were to her. You told her something she knew about her unemployment claim, she got mad, and you feel you were right and she was wrong. It feels like you think you know all about her in the way you speak about her, but you haven’t asked her to tell you who she is as person and that you’re genuinely willing to listen to that). My sister was starting to get there, because cancer forced her to, but it was too late. Maybe you never did something as bad as sleep with her exes, but maybe she thinks you did something that was the equivalent. Whatever alliances you have in the family that are against her (my sister’s was with my mom), you need to break those down and start being on HER side, if you truly want things to change for the better. And be honest with yourself about that. Do you want things to change? Or do you just want her to change? How do you think she feels around you?

I know that sounds ridiculous, to start being on her side, because she’s done so much to hurt you as well. And you benefit from those alliances as well. But you have to own up to your own shit, and it can’t be performative. It has to be real and honest. You also have to be able to see things from her viewpoint too. That’s going to take years of deep work (because you have almost 5 decades of dysfunction with her), which you might not want to or are able to do. If so, be honest with yourself about that. This is what I needed from my sister in order to have the emotionally intimate relationship that SHE wanted. I started to see glimpses of what was possible, but she would have had to do years more work to get to a place where she could be really honest. That’s the tragedy of trauma. It fucks you, and everyone else up, and takes years to heal. And sometimes you die before you get there, and that’s the unfortunate reality.

I hope what I’ve said has been helpful for you, and to help you shift your thinking. I hope something tragic doesn’t happen to any of you to make you start looking at things differently, but sometimes that’s one of the reasons why these awful things happen. Unfortunately it was too late for us. Maybe it will be as well for you, or maybe not. It’s really your choice.

Tl;dr: you have to look at yourself. Honestly and deeply.
posted by foxjacket at 11:16 AM on November 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Just to add to what foxjacket said: look up designated patient as a form of toxicity in families, and caretaker roles. The reality is, that as much as I was a caretaker for my siblings in childhood, they are adults now. Doing that to them is unkind, unjust, and exhausting. I'm not their teacher or parent! If your sister is the 'family screw up' then all the interactions you have will be ones with a power differential. My sister was the pretty one, I was the smart one but I can bet you can see how that gets flipped and how damaging it was. After I realised that my damage from being the ugly one was mirrored by hers for being the stupid one (both untrue) I made a huge conscious effort to engage her with her smarts. I asked her advice. I talked about how much I admired her drive and ambition and smarts (which once made her cry on a train when she read it). That helped I think, more than anything - recognising the damage and actively working against the expectations: Afterall I'm the eldest and I'm academic! Why would I ask silly little sister anything? Well, she is brilliant, and driven, and I don't have to defend my 'position' as older or smarter or whatever.

(It also took breaking with a lot of other expectations including, yes, moving thousands of miles away, not living close to family even in the same state, and so on)

I never tried to make my sister have the kind of relationship with me that she has with her friends. I don't have to. I know she loves me (after I moved away she apparently debated with our mother the possibility of asking me to adopt her dog that I loved, to see if that would make me move back - she didn't do it because that's not how relationships should work but that she even thought it was a surprise). We have our own lives, our own damages, and we try and meet each other where we are. Not judged against an imaginary should-be.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:08 PM on November 3, 2020

Familiarity does indeed breed contempt -- how comes it that the people who know us the best and longest are the people who treat us the worst always ?
posted by y2karl at 10:38 AM on November 19, 2020

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