Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sibling Rivalry: Does Yours Match Hollywood's Oldest?

Dr. Gilda Carle

Oscar winners Joan Fontaine, 90 years old, and Olivia de Havilland, 91, are sisters. And they have been feuding for as long as they have been alive. As children, they had savage wrestling matches, hair-pulling marathons, and Olivia fractured Joan’s collarbone! Today Olivia lives in Paris, while Joan resides in California. Unfortunately, the distance between continents hasn’t been great enough to get these women to patch up their past.

The girls were born in Tokyo, Japan. Their mom was an actress and their dad was a patent attorney. It is said that Olivia never wanted a younger sister. (Few older kids want to share the spotlight with a young newcomer!) And for her part, Joan always believed their mother favored Olivia.

Joan was a sickly child with anemia, measles, and a strep infection. Upon the advice of their physician, Joan’s divorced mother moved the girls to the U.S. A mother who doesn’t care for her daughter would not move her across the world to improve her health. Nonetheless, any child who feels her mom doesn’t love her will have difficulties forming loving bonds. Case in point, Joan had 4 husbands, and she is estranged from her two daughters, especially after learning they were in touch with Aunt Olivia.

Olivia became an actress first, and then Joan chose to follow her lead. Olivia would naturally have resented being upstaged and copied by her young sister. While Olivia used the name “de Havilland,” for some reason, their mother forbade Joan to do the same. So Joan needed to invent a new last name for herself. Which did she choose? She picked her mother’s former stage name, Fontaine, perhaps as another attempt to get her mother’s love.

Throughout this duo’s lives, they were in contention for parts, and they competed for Oscars. To our knowledge, the only thing they hadn’t competed for was men.

Mo Rocca and I did this piece about the feud between the Oscar-winning sisters:

Do you suffer from derailed communication with a sibling? Its effect on you may be greater than you imagine. Here’s what you can do if you are suffering.

How to Heal Sibling Rivalry
1) Be sure both of you WANT to heal your feuding.
2) If you do, calmly discuss your turmoil and discuss why this occurred. Be honest regarding your feelings and your fears.
3) Let bygones be bygones, without reiterating the past at every pass.
4) Keep your eye on your goal. The two of you share: a) a past unlike any two people, b) a medical history you may someday need to draw from, and c) an understanding of your unique life circumstances. These elements can provide rich insights about who you are and how you behave. Instead of arguing, embrace the fact that each of you is still available to the other to do this work.

I have a sister whom I’d love to strangle at times. It particularly unnerves me when she doesn’t take care of herself, and does stupid dysfunctional things. But when push comes to shove, she’s still my sister, and we know we can depend on each other for whatever life’s challenges provide. It wasn’t always this way. When she was stealing my clothes, plagiarizing my poetry, and throwing knives at me at the dinner table, I hated her. But the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference, and I’m surely not indifferent to my sister today. I don’t know whether Olivia and Joan will think that their nineties is the right time to finally right their wrongs. But if YOU have a shot at making sibling amends, do it. The burden of anger seeps through your bones and into every relationship you have. After you make peace, you will feel much freer to enjoy your entire life!
Dr. Gilda

DR. GILDA CARLE (Ph.D.),, is an internationally-known psychotherapist and relationship expert. Her new 4-volume, 400+ page E-Book Program is “How to WIN When Your Mate Cheats”:, which is Immediately Downloadable.

DR. GILDA is’s weekly Suddenly Single advice columnist on’s Dating & Personals page. She is also a motivational speaker, a professor of psychology & communications, and the author of the best-seller, "Don't Bet on the Prince!" (a test question on "Jeopardy!"),
She counsels people throughout the world through her Instant Advice at and her Mentoring programs at . She is VERY GRATEFUL to all those she’s known who have given her a hard time, and pushed her to grow! She hopes that you, too, will employ this life-enhancing path.

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