Reuniting With Your First Love…on the Net

They say that you never forget your first love. And with the exception of yours truly, who would rather stick his tongue in a bear trap than even think about his high school girlfriend, many look back on their first romances with fond feelings. Although not everyone thinks of that relationship for more than a passing moment or so, some must wonder what it would be like to rekindle the romance they had when they were teenagers or college-aged.

Suppose for a minute that you could. What would that be like?

As of 2003, Dr. Nancy Kalish had studied over 2,000 “lost love” relationships. She said that three-quarters of first loves who reunite years later decide to stay together, even when the reunion begins as an adulterous affair. Normally, most marriages that begin as affairs terminate. How are these people reconnecting and why would the relationship work at a later date?

The web, of course, is where most of these meetings begin. When Dr. Kalish was doing her research in the early 2000’s, the most popular site for finding people from the past was Classmates.com. At that time, the site found that 36 percent of respondents had used the net to look up or contact a former significant other. And Dr. Kalish stated in an interview with the Boston Globe that while many people begin their search as simple curiosity, affairs can escalate quickly *. The interviewer, Carey Goldberg, noted an anonymous respondent from Dr. Kalish’s research to highlight this point:


“It’s like you’re falling in love all over again,” she said. Her first boyfriend found her on the web, and before she knew it, she was obsessed, and then lying to her husband, and then sexually unfaithful, and then caught by her husband – who, to her continuing gratitude, stuck with her instead of divorcing her.

Dr. Kalish brings up a very interesting point: “therapists tend to underestimate the powerful nature of such old loves, especially first loves. As a result, they tend to tell such patients that their feelings for their re-found loves are based on fantasy and that they can find the same feelings in their own marriages if they only try. But that fails to take into account that reunited lovers really do know and love each other, and a first love, in particular, remains unique. This is not about sex, it is not about the spouse or the marriage, it is not a midlife crisis,” she said. “The reunion is a continuation of a love that was interrupted.”

Carey Goldberg notes some research indicates that a teenager may attach specifically to a first lover in much the same way as a baby attaches to a mother. This hypothesis was given by Dr. Linda Waud, a Psychologist who wrote her dissertation on three reunited couples.

“There is an actual neurological attachment that happens between these individuals,” she said, “and that’s why it’s enduring and it never leaves your mind. It’s there forever and ever.” Interestingly, Dr. Waud herself reconnected with a long-lost love after 35 years apart.

In her in-depth interviews of the three couples, she noted that they had unusually intense sexual connections, which made her posit that sexual attachment may work with the same kind of specificity as baby-mother attachment.

Although a dissertation with only three couples makes generalization extremely difficult, she is onto something. I’ve made the very mistake that Dr. Kalish pointed out: that the former love is simply a fantasy and that one’s current relationship can satisfy this new need. And this is coming from someone who is not only a product of divorce, but someone who also spends most of his days thinking about why marriages fail, so I obviously thought I had some weight behind my advice. After I was wrong not once but three times with clients who ultimately chose to leave their marriage for their high school sweethearts, I had to rethink my position. There’s a possibility for a permanent footprint in your brain when it comes to your first love.
What does this mean for current relationships? With Facebook now in complete control of the human race, more and more people are reconnecting. Many will get back in touch with old flames, possibly their very first romance. Depending on how those conversations go – and yes, of course many of them will be simple hello’s and good-bye’s – casual chat may turn into flirtation, then a discussion about status and availability. And when the relationship moves from Facebook to IM to text to telephone and then to personal contact, the attachment that Dr. Waud talks about has perhaps manifested itself in a true rekindling of the romance, with much more backing than any affair could produce. For some, decisions will need to be made. If married, do I leave for what might be really ‘the one?’ Or do I stay and honor what I’ve agreed to while relinquishing what my mind had perhaps bonded to years ago?

Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to that question and I’m pretty sure that we could get a 50/50 breakdown if we asked enough people. Every person in this spot will need to answer it, however. And from what I’ve seen in my practice, it’s an agonizing choice, especially when the current relationship is at least somewhat satisfying. So essentially I’m along for the ride as people decide what is in their best interests as well as the other parties involved. This can take months, perhaps years, to weigh out the pros and cons, the practical and emotional changes involved in life-altering decisions like these, the risks involved in making the ‘wrong’ choice. In other words, watching a client grapple with a problem like this is very difficult to watch. Even if you think you know the right choice, you can’t give it to the client. He or she truly has to come to it via the self. It can’t be spoon fed. Some will leave their families and begin new lives with a former love, usually with a large amount of guilt. Others will stay put and feel that permanent imprint tugging at them. Either way, it’s not a particularly envious position in which to be.

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* I’d link to this specific article, written by Carey Goldberg, but it’s archived and you have to pay to read it. Hit up Globe.com if my piece doesn’t summarize it sufficiently for you or if you don’t mind spending the fee.

Related Post: Reuniting With Your First Love…On the Net (Revisited)

Update (11/20/13): I’m not sure if this is of interest to anyone, but I received this solicitation and agreed to post it. Consider it useful until early December, 2013:

Now Casting: People Looking For Missed Love Connections!

Do you believe that your one true love is actually someone from your past? Do you often think about “what could have been” with an old flame? Or perhaps someone that you met and felt the timing was off, but could have blossomed under different circumstances? Do you dream of reuniting with a high school or college boyfriend or girlfriend, but don’t know where to find them? Was there a person that you had a steamy vacation tryst with, but have never been able to track down?

If so, we want to hear from you! A major production company is casting for people who dream of working with an expert to make a love (re)connection with someone from their past. To learn more or refer a friend, please email us at MissedConnectionsCasting@gmail.com and a Casting Producer will be in touch ASAP.

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12,923 Responses to “Reuniting With Your First Love…on the Net”

  1. twice shy says:

    I also didn’t hear from my FL for 7 months after his wife broke into his email and read our communications. That was a year ago and we have only spoken twice since.

    I often wonder if he was having an affair with someone else and I just got caught out in the crossfire. We had both pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that is was never going to happen for us and had tried to say our goodbyes months before I got a random email from her (from his email) about finding us out.

    The timing of us getting caught talking just seemed odd, we hadn’t spoken in months before I received a reply to a year old email from his email, but it was her. We are both just trying to move on now I suppose…

  2. PleaseGodCanIBeWithLL says:

    My LL’s live-in GF of 18 years knows about our communication. It is LL who cannot handle the situation/feelings between us and so he “ran” and hid. He did the same thing during our dating years, so I’m not surprised. He did once tell me that he might “shut this whole thing down” if it becomes to hard to deal with. I had a warning and knew it could happen, but it still hurts nonetheless and I felt blindsided for awhile.

  3. Seviah says:

    I didn’t go on FB for that reason, but it was fun to be looked up. The rest…you’re kidding.

  4. Have Faith says:

    Reading a lot of these comments I see many people here think that threats and anger directed at a cheating spouse will somehow “fix” the problem. Trust me when I say it definitely won’t. Anger won’t fix any other bad behavior your spouse might have, either. Bottom line is that people can only “fix” themselves and only will do so if THEY WANT to do so. You can’t make anyone do something they don’t want to do.

    Others spend time wondering why their FL doesnt contact them. But in the end does it really matter WHY? The reason could be that they don’t want to leave their marriage or change their life, and no one has the power to change that but their self alone.
    I think when we see a situation where we know our FL is very unhappy and being abused in their relationship, then it can be difficult to step aside. Then we could feel a need to help them in some way. But I think in most of these cases people just don’t want to leave a life that they have spent many years building, so they will stay even if they aren’t totally satisfied. And no matter the reason why they have chosen to stay in a less than happy relationship, they will only leave when they are emotionally ready to leave.

  5. QuestionsNOanswers says:

    Jeesh, you all have it rough-some way worse than me. This really sucks. Im almost positive my FL isnt happy at all. He became a drinker right after he got married. (NEVER drank before). The first night we spoke, we talked for 6 hours straight. Every time we talked it was for at least an hour or two. He would always reminice (sp?) about us and our time together. I never brought it up because of fear Id chase him away. Im sure hes afraid of what/how he feels. Im not even sure he misses me, maybe hes glad Im gone. I dunno.

  6. Hopeful says:

    True Love
    It is somewhat idealistic to think there will be compassion and love from a spouse about the prospect of their spouse having feelings for another person-in most cases, it is regarded the same if it was a person from a long time ago or five minutes ago–even though most people in this situation feel it is completely different because the feelings never really left; so it doesn’t feel wrong in many ways, just part of who they are.While I agree that making threats is not healthy; when someone fears losing a life they built, I think it’s more common than not.I don’t think there is much difference between threats and ultimatums–except maybe threats evoke fear.In the end, the message is the same-letting the person know things can’t continue in the way that they are going.I agree that not everyone is capable of loving more than 1 person (in this all-consuming, once in a lifetime, connected way) and also wonder if that “missing someone constantly” feeling will ever go away.My guess is no.

  7. Down the Rabbit Hole says:

    Have Faith: I agree with you 100%. Although I think anger is a perfectly normal response to betrayal and expressing it appropriately is healthy and necessary. Threats? Never. Suppressed anger is not good, it will come back to bite later. You are right though…anger will not fix a relationship if it is routine or explosive and inappropriately expressed. Anyone in an abusive situation should get help and/or leave.

  8. QuestionsNOanswers says:

    One last thing- does ANYONE ever get their “happy ending?” Im just trying to see if I should keep hope alive, or just forget him.

  9. True Love says:

    Hopeful
    It may be idealistic, but I know from experience what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a spouse being emotionally abusive due to discovering communication with a LL. Should someone’s history not also be taken into consideration? If this is a person who has never cheated or treated their spouse poorly and now they are faced with these suddenly overwhelming feelings for a FL, there is a good chance that this person is also suffering. They could be overwhelmed by guilt for hurting their SO and any others involved. When their spouse just reacts with anger then they are just making the situation all about them and not even considering that the other person may be suffering too.

    I can understand anger at being cheated on. I know that from experience as well. But I think we have to consider all these stories individually because there is a big difference in a case of someone having feelings for a LL and experiencing guilt due to that, and a spouse who habitually cheats and lies about it to their spouse. One big difference is the former probably won’t continue to cheat ( if the marriage continues) but the latter probably will.

  10. What could have been says:

    QuestionsNoanswers
    many people found this website because of the question you are asking. can there be a happy ending? there have been some, not many here, but a few.
    you can keep hoping always, but hoping and doing—the follow through—is what is difficult.
    you won’t ever forget him so don’t even try. that’s the harder part still, the forgetting. it won’t happen. your goal now is to somehow reduce the ache in your chest and move forward all the while keeping that as a wish in the back of your head.
    so many of these relationships end up being just another dream. if you had stayed together when you were younger, that’s a huge ‘what if’ or what might have been. unfortunately, it is now still a ‘what if’ or what might have been. very few move forward to have what you’re asking about.
    it’s possible, of course, everything is possible but if you’re looking for absolutes here, you won’t find it.
    you can scroll back to the beginning of this website and read forward and you will find maybe 4 or 5 stories, out of the many here, where people ‘made it’.
    one in particular where they are currently ‘making it’ but even they are not together in the traditional sense, they remain apart from each other even having each other and neither being married. i’m not sure what keeps them apart. there was a couple on here who were moving forward in a life together, they both posted and got scared off by the negativity of their frivolity in hurting his wife, and so they haven’t been back but they were a ‘success’, i guess.
    there are people on here who have been waiting for years for their happy ending. some in their 60’s, the others in their 30’s, 40’s and a lot in their 50’s – which seems to be around the time the majority start looking to reconnect with what they remember as the ‘one’.
    there have been people here who connected and can never go back to life as it was before, we continue to ‘hope’ for the impossible.
    i believe it to be impossible. the only way i see for these relationships to work when someone is married is the spouse dying or finding out and leaving and then maybe moving forward in a relationship.
    just because you reconnect with someone who you both find to be the most amazing connection of your life, just because they are your best friend and you have that electrifying connection, doesn’t mean that it will work out.
    maybe it isn’t supposed to and maybe we all need to recognize that just because you can have it, doesn’t mean you ever will and if you do get it, maybe it won’t be what you think it would be.
    the one relationship i told you about where they reconnected and neither are married, they see each other all the time but they will never be together fully, they can’t because while they love each other, one of them is now sure that the other is not the ultimate relationship but just someone that he trusts. for him, it isn’t fully what he needs and so he will never relinquish to get married or whatever you consider happy ending. they will both always be living this life apart but nearby.
    i am not sure why it has to be this way but it does.
    good luck with your happy ending. very few have what you are seeking here. this has become a place where those wanting to find out that same answer seem to land, a soft place to land, for consolation and a comfort because nobody in the real world understands the conflict like those stuck here.

  11. Have Faith says:

    DTRH

    Anger is the normal response to betrayal or inconsiderate behavior, and of course everyone will express anger when faced with those things. The thing you learn though, (and it will often take many years to learn) is that no matter how angry you get because your spouse is doing something hurtful/toxic, they still may not change their behavior.

    This was difficult for me to understand, (and I think the same is probably true for most people,) because most people would understand that their actions are hurting their spouse and take the steps to change their bad behavior. But what I’ve gradually come to understand is some people can NEVER understand this. These people lack empathy, and so they can never make that connection. For these people it’s all about how THEY feel and all about how other people make them feel.

    I think on some level they do understand how hurtful their actions are, but on another level they perceive their feelings are being more important than anyone else’s feelings, and so they will continue doing the same thing over and over, regardless of who they hurt. One thing I’ve noticed is that these people will also “forget” their bad behavior or project their actions onto their spouse. The spouse is not only now dealing with the original bad behavior, now they are dealing with lies and gaslighting as the spouse tries to cover up their mistake instead of admitting to them.

    The person being lied to only gets angrier and angrier, but the person doing the lying never changes. They won’t ever change because they just don’t have the ability (empathy) to see how they are hurting the other person. So it becomes a vicious cycle of getting angrier and angrier but nothing is ever resolved.

    So I agree that anger is normal, and it’s healthy to express the anger instead of stifling it, but what we have to realize is that anger won’t necessarily change the other person’s behavior. And if that’s the situation then your anger eventually hurts you.

  12. Hopeful says:

    True Love

    You are exactly right.There is a difference for having feelings for someone from years ago and being a habitual cheater.However, I don’t think most people are as highly evolved as to think that way.Most people will assume something must be going on if there is communication of some sort from someone from one’s past.In addition from what you said, it sounds like your spouse cheated.Perhaps your spouse sought comfort elsewhere (not that it makes it right of course) because she/he sensed you did not really love her/him.I find with these first love connections, the spouses involved almost always get a sense that they are not “everything” to us even when nothing may be going on.It’s like the ghost of the past is so strong it is ever-present.I remember once a friend asked me if my spouse was my soulmate and I could not answer (I obviously knew the answer and it made me stop in my tracks, but wasn’t prepared to share that part of my heart-my silence on the matter spoke volumes).Where are you in the process now?

  13. True Love says:

    Hopeful

    My husband claims to have never cheated, but there has been a number of strange incidents that suggest cheating. However he has not admitted to cheating. He claims to be unable to remember the suspicious events, but he is obviously lying about certain things. Truthfully I would feel better if he did admit to it and at least give me an explanation for his sometimes strange behavior.

    If I am correct and cheating is the reason for his strange behavior then I am quite sure his cheating had nothing to do with my feelings for him or any lingering feelings i had for a FL. Instead it had everything to do with my husband and his needs and his feelings of male entitlement. I think it’s a mistake to blame a spouse for their partners cheating.If there are problems in the marriage then the one who feels unloved or neglected should communicate that to their partner , not have an affair.

    But I do agree that I have never felt my husband was my soul mate. I don’t know if that was something he could sense or not. However, I still put my best effort into my relationship with him, even though I never loved him the same way I loved my FL. I think if my husband had put the same effort into it the marriage could have worked, regardless of the feelings I still carried for my FL, but thats hard to say for sure.Currently we are separated and are just beginning the divorce process.

  14. Love of My Life says:

    @ True Love & Hopeful …. I also believe there is a big difference in a cheater and someone having a relationship with their first love who they have never forgotten. I know technically it is an affair but doesn’t mean you are a serial cheater. Personally I never ever thought of having an affair with anyone else and I have had a few opportunities. I was not interested in anyone else. My first love was always in my mind and heart. I was young and naive when I married 6 months after the breakup with my FL … STUPID actually. I suspected and have been told quite a few times that my husband cheated on me earlier on in my marriage and it wasn’t with his FL.

    @ True Love …. the soul mate thing hits home for me. I never felt my husband was my soul mate either. I try to avoid any conversations about soul mates because I feel FL is my soul mate. I freak out whenever my anniversary comes up (just had my 45th and I had a very stressful time until it was over). I just don’t want to celebrate it in any way. I see friends on FB bragging about their husband being their soul mate and how much they love them and I wonder if it is really that great or is it all just for show.

    I don’t know if I will ever have the chance to be able to live with my soul mate but at least we have a daily communication now … better than no contact what so ever.

  15. Down the Rabbit Hole says:

    DTRH: as others have stated, I too believe most of us here are not serial cheaters. The very nature of FL/LL attachment renders that virtually impossible. I will never be in a relationship outside my marriage with anyone else, ever. Nor have I been. This is different.

    Doesn’t make it less wrong. Just different.

    When my spouse describes me as the love of his life (very seldom), it doesn’t ring true. Never has. Actions always speak louder than words, and words ring hollow when the actions are inconsistent. When I first married, I thought my husband would be the loml. Those feelings never matured and I also cringe at the fake FB tributes my spouse likes to post. 🙁

  16. Truth be Told says:

    For those of you that are married, I want to know why you don’t think you can be truthful with your spouse about how your really feel?

    What keeps you from being honest at the cost of your own happiness (and theirs!).

    Why not be truthful and let them move on and try to find someone to love them the way they deserve to be loved? Why keep all of you in this liars nest just so things go smoothly?

    I was married for a long time and ultimately very unhappy. I finally gathered the courage to say it was over. It was hard, yes, but it was the right thing to do. I couldn’t go to bed one more night and lay there wondering if that was all there was. Hard as hell, but I did it.

  17. Love of My Life says:

    @Truth be Told … I have told my husband that I do not love him and have had the discussion a few times about leaving and I was advised by him that the next time I bring up the subject that will be it. After being married 45 years it is easier said than done … a lot harder than if you are 45 years old. We have been sleeping in separate rooms for over two years and no sex for a long time. So basically it is over except for the actual move out … we are more like roommates instead of soul mates. It is hard to make that change when that is how you lived for 45 years. He doesn’t know about FL and I am not telling him he is my soul mate or loml … no pretense as far as that is concerned. That is great that you made your move. I am praying that some day I will be able to do it … it keeps getting closer with every day.

  18. True Love says:

    LOML

    I know that technically an affair is an affair, whether it’s with a past love or a person you just met. For me the difference is important because I think it shows something about your character if a person repeatedly cheats, especially with multiple partners.

    I think a person who cheats just because they have an opportunity to cheat, or they are looking for opportunities to have an affair, have a very different personality than the person who struggles with feelings for a FL that have never faded away.
    The first type or person is cheating for lust and the thrill of getting away with something they know they shouldn’t be doing. They probably won’t change their behavior.. The other type of person is more likely to only cheat with this one person( their FL) and never again. I think the distinction is important if, as a spouse who has been cheated on, you are wondering if your marriage is worth saving.

  19. Have Faith says:

    Truth
    I think there are many reasons why someone will stay in a marriage when they aren’t happy. And yes, it is really difficult to tell your spouse the truth and admit that you don’t want to be married to them any longer, and probably even harder to do when the reason is that you love someone else. But whatever the reason is for wanting out of a marriage you know for sure that your spouse will be deeply hurt. And the thought of hurting people is really hard for some people to face.

    There are lots of other reasons for staying, especially financial, more likely if the one who wants to leave isn’t financially independent. I think the financial aspect is more common with women than men.

    So the fears of hurting people, of not being able to support yourself financially, and of losing custody of kids (if applicable) can stop someone from leaving.

    Sometimes people would rather sacrifice their own happiness rather than leave, and sometimes they are just too fearful to leave.

  20. Magical Thinker says:

    Truth, in my case I’m staying because a) I have very young children; b) I’m a stay at home mom currently without a job (I am starting to look though); c) part of me wonders if I can make my marriage work, in spite of my feelings for my FL, and in spite of the long history of emotional and verbal abuse from my spouse (he swears he wants to change and he has made amazing progress, we’re both in individual and couples’ therapy); c) I am under intense pressure from family to figure it out with my husband and stay together; d) I can’t leave for my FL – I would have to end my marriage only if I’d rather be alone for eternity than stay married to my husband. I’ve lived with these feelings for my FL all through this marriage, never thinking they mattered bc I didn’t know he felt the same way. And now that I know, it’s even harder to keep them at bay. But I don’t want to run away from my marriage straight into another relationship, even if I’m madly in love – that would be trading one set of problems for another. If it were just me, everything would be different, but I have small children and their welfare comes first. My husband knows I don’t love him, he knows why I’m staying. It’s not easy though. We’re both under so much stress, and the emotional fallout from all this is causing depression and anxiety for both of us. I’m trying to be there for him and he’s trying to be there for me, but I just feel so empty around him. For me, it’s not as black and white as “he was abusive and I love someone else so I just need to leave.” I made a commitment to him and I need to see that through. If after all this, we figure it out and I’m happy with him, I’ll have to let go of my FL somehow; but if we keep working at it and it doesn’t get better or it gets worse, than at least I know I did my best and my marriage ended on its own terms. (And I have to keep NC with my FL too, as much as I miss him, and I do, it’s like I can’t catch my breath most days, it’s unfair to both him and my husband to communicate while I’m still married.)

  21. Have Faith says:

    Magical thinker

    From everything I’ve read, experienced and seen myself, I would say abusers very rarely change. They can change but only if they are truly comitted to improving themselves and if they really understand how painful their behavior is for others.
    If you haven’t already read the book Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft I would recommend that.

    Also, consider your statement that you don’t love your husband and he knows that….Is this the way you want to live your life? Is this how you want your children to be raised? In a home where their parents have no love for each other.

  22. Magical Thinker says:

    Have Faith, I totally agree with you on every point but one: my husband says he stills loves me and always did. He’s taken responsibility for his abuse and he’s trying to change; his actions are backing that up. I just don’t love him anymore, and I never loved him like I love FL, so I’m super confused about the right way forward. He’s going to have setbacks in his change and I’m not sure I can deal with the trial and error as he learns a new way to communicate and act. But for now, I think it’s in my children’s best interest to give our marriage another chance, even if my heart isn’t in it. It’s really hard to balance these contradictions and live in this space, but at least now I’m honest about how I feel and I don’t have to pretend I’m happy when I’m not. But you’re right, in the long run, being married to someone you don’t love isn’t the way I want to live my life.

  23. Have Faith says:

    Magical Thinker,

    In the book I mentioned in my earlier post, the author describes the 13 steps an abuser must take to truly change. The first step is fully admitting all their abusive actions, the second step is admitting the abuse was wrong, unconditionally, and not putting the blame on you.

    If his therapist is not using this same 13 step program I would be concerned. I mention this because the therapist my husband was seeing told him his actions were not abusive ( this is according to my husband’s version, I wasn’t permitted to talk to the therapist) so there is a very good chance my husband lied about what he told the therapist, and I know he definitely lied to our therapist during marriage counselling. I find it hard to believe a therapist would tell my husband that doing things such as throwing objects at me, trying to intimidate me by raising a chair over my head and slamming it down next to me, and raging uncontrollably in my face for hours, is not abusive. Seems unlikely.

    One thing about abusers is that they will continue to tell you that they love you, even right after they hit you. It’s called hoovering you back in. Remember actions speak louder than words. It’s easy to say “I love you” but it the actions that prove love, not the words.

    One of the things that I really started to realize after beginning to understand the abusive pattern, is that abusers really DON’T love you. Think about it – if you love someone do you repeatedly treat them in an abusive, disrespectful manner, over and over again? Even after they have pleaded with you to change?

    Abuse has NOTHING to do with learning to communicate. It has everything to do with respect. A lot of therapist will try and tell you that learning communication skills is the answer. But it isn’t the answer. There is no way to communicate with an abusive person because they will lie, talk in riddles, evade questions, feign memory loss, gaslight you, and it always results in circular arguments.

    If your husband is truly willing to change and take the necessary steps, then at that time worry about working on your marriage. But if he is still being abusive right now why don’t you ask for a temporary separation? It will give you time to think alone and will show him that you will plan on following through if he doesn’t shape up.

    You may think it’s in your children’s best interest if you stay married, but that all depends. If you are deeply unhappy, or if your husband doesn’t change, or if he is abusive to the kids as well, then it not good for them to live like that.

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