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Q&A with J: “Is It Okay for Him to Please Himself While Thinking of Me?”

Today’s question is from a wife who struggles with postpartum blues. At the time she wrote, she was physically and emotionally unable to engage in sexual intimacy with her husband.

I just had baby number 4 . . . I have really struggled with postpartum blues this time. I’ve been trying to communicate my needs and when I’m feeling down so I don’t get too lost, and I think I’m doing okay with that, but some days I am so overwhelmed. This has really really impacted my connection with my husband. I haven’t been able to be close to him much. A couple times the first week or two I did please him with my hand. I don’t like doing it that way but I know he needed it. But then the blues kicked in and I haven’t been able to please him in the last 2 weeks.

Now, he needs his touch, and he has tried (so he says) to be close by hugging or kissing me. Sadly, I don’t respond the way he wants. And just the other day I realized, though, that he hasn’t really strongly pursued intimacy like he usually does. Selfishly I’m okay with this because I don’t feel like I am emotionally able to engage in anything (I can’t have intercourse yet, but there are other things). But then I feared that he was getting it somewhere else. So I asked him. He said that at work he will go to the bathroom and please himself, while thinking of me.

I just don’t know what to think about this. It hurts, yet I now pushed him to it because of my stupid hormones and the inability to get close to him. Is this okay for him to do? He has a past of porn use, before we got married, and so it just brings up bad feelings for me. At the same time, I can’t give him what he needs, so I guess it’s better than porn use or infidelity. There are many other little things that are contributing to our disconnection, but this area of intimacy is tearing us apart right now. And honestly, most of the time lately, I don’t care to do much to change it.

I know that’s the blues talking — how do I fight that?? So I guess my main question is how can I trust that I am not betraying myself and my emotions and that he will care for my heart so that I can give him what he needs physically and not push him to please himself?

Q&A with J: "Is It Okay for Him to Please Himself While Thinking of Me?"

I see three main issues here:

  1. Her struggle with postpartum depression, which is a very real and very difficult road for some new moms.
  2. Her inability to engage with her husband in physical intimacy or affection.
  3. His choice to masturbate on his own to relieve the buildup of sexual tension.

Let’s tackle these in turn.

Postpartum depression. The answer to this one is get help. I’ve written about my own mood problems postpartum and how they affected my sex life. They affected everything else in my life at that time too — my marriage, my ability to parent, my health. Looking back, I didn’t need to wade through that swamp of blues alone.

I appreciate that you’re speaking up with your husband. I wonder if you’ve also talked honestly with your doctor. You may need to look at your hormonal balance or consider a temporary antidepressant to get through this difficult time. Some balk at such measures, but when you begin to feel more like yourself, I think you’ll be glad you reached out and sought answers.

You probably need help in other areas, like housework and childcare. Are there family or friend resources who could help you? Be willing to explain the situation and ask for assistance. Over and over again, I’ve seen that when people are honest with their church community about their needs, godly people come to the rescue. But too often someone is faced with a genuine struggle, and friends have no idea what’s going on. See if you can get someone to help you temporarily while you recover.

Of course, your husband should provide help as well, by doing double-duty for a time. He’s in this parenting thing with you too, and when those kids are little, it’s time to step up and handle whatever gets thrown your way together.

Inability to engage. I appreciate that you tried to satisfy your husband’s needs with your hand. I’m sure he also appreciated your efforts! But you followed with saying that the blues hit and you stopped being sexually intimate. I get that, I really do. It’s a struggle to do much of anything when you’re in the throes of deep depression. However, we have a tendency to withdraw when we feel bad, while the better thing for our marriages is to connect. Your postpartum blues aren’t just your challenge; he’s married to you so it’s his challenge too. And you can walk through this together.

I encourage you to read my post on Is Depression Impacting Your Sexual Intimacy? I give specific tips for dealing with depression or dysthymia and the marriage bed.

What’s most important is to understand that you must find some way to maintain physical closeness. It doesn’t have to look like what he expected, but it shouldn’t be absent.

Talk to yourself regularly about your husband, his affection, and your sexual intimacy in positive terms, so that your mind can warm back up to the idea. Make time together a priority. With all those little ones, I don’t mean that it has to be time with just the two of you — you may need to snuggle up together on the couch with a child in each of your arms. But be close when you can.

And sometimes, yes, you may do something sexual for your husband that you aren’t all that interested in doing at first. However, there can be great joy in satisfying your spouse in the marriage bed and you may find that you enjoy the experience once you choose to engage.

His masturbation. I don’t believe what your husband did is a problem. In the Bible, masturbation is not condemned as a sin, although God clearly designed sexual intimacy for married couples. What I find to be a good barometer is whether the masturbation takes sexual energy away from the marriage or supports the marriage.

Your husband attempting to deal with his sexual tension while you are unavailable by thinking about you and masturbating to climax seems supportive of your marriage. He isn’t engaging in porn. He isn’t making this a habit. He isn’t masturbating when he could be making love with you. He isn’t thinking of someone else. He isn’t even hiding what he did, since he admitted it when you asked.

This obviously shouldn’t be the new norm — with an absence of intimacy in your marriage bed and him reaching climax alone. But I get why he did it, and give the poor guy a break.

How about suggesting he bring that activity back into the marital bedroom where it best belongs? For instance, he could go ahead and take care of himself while you snuggle up to him naked and/or stroke his testicles. Or consider other activities you could do to enhance your connection while he reaches climax. Then you know you’re the one on his mind and it’s part of a mutual experience.

This is a tough time. But it really is a season. Please pursue answers in the meantime to make things as good as they can be. Resentment can build, for either spouse, when issues like this are not addressed and handled.

However, know that you can reaffirm your sexual love and enjoy many, many years of intimacy in one another’s arms. I pray for healing and blessings for your marriage and for your marriage bed.

30 thoughts on “Q&A with J: “Is It Okay for Him to Please Himself While Thinking of Me?””

  1. Excellent answer, J! PPD is UGLY. I appreciate you making that issue something that they should tackle together instead of just telling her to suck it up because God and marriage and duty. I didn’t have a problem with my husband taking care of himself while I struggled to find a reason to live. We went weeks (ok, a month or two) without anything sexual and I didn’t even know it. I do remember telling my therapist that sex was the only thing that made me feel anything, so there’s something to be said for that. Hope this poor woman seeks counseling. It sucks, but it’s easier to get out of a pit when someone is helping pull you up.

  2. this is so similar to my story it is creepy. I had PPD so bad after baby #2 that I was eventually hospitalized on suicide watch. We went 4-6 months with ZERO sex, though I didn’t even realize it at the time. Needless to say, he resorted to taking care of things himself, and I do think that really was the only thing he could do. I was not capable of any kind of sexual connection when I was fighting off constant suicidal urges. But about 2 weeks before our third baby was born, I caught him masturbating in the shower and was deeply hurt, because we were having sex 3 times a week still! I finally got up the courage to talk about it. He admitted it was a bad habit left over from PPD. I told him how hurt I was and asked him to funnel all of that desire toward me moving forward. We put together a PPD plan that included sex. I began to change my view of sex because, yes, PPD hit again this time. I told him to pursue me anyway, because it was so amazing to me that he would still want me when I was such a horrible person (or felt like it at the time). It wasn’t particularly sexy sex, it was sweet sex. Truly making love, I think. Sometimes I cried. Maybe that’s weird, but it was just so beautiful to be loved despite the darkness and so I just cried. (Like I said, not very sexy. Ha.)

    There were times I just couldn’t though. During those times I got in the shower with him a lot when things were really bad. We could have that skin to skin time and I could finish him that way. I didn’t personally want him masturbating. But like I said, the previous time it was necessary and I don’t think it’s wrong, especially if he is carefully guarding his thoughts and using his fantasies to look forward to your time together again. As long as it is mutually agreed upon and acknowledged to be temporary because of circumstances, I think it is an option, but I also highly encourage “comfort sex” during this time. I couldn’t orgasm for a long time because of nursing and the PPD, but that was still a special time for us and I am so incredibly thankful for the different experience this time. My husband is too. PPD drew us closer together, not tore us apart.

    I am so sorry you are struggling. It is the most awful thing I have ever experienced. It is so hard, but try to lean INTO your husband during this time, not away from him, even though that is what depression leads you to do. I pray that God gives you strength to persevere and come through this stronger than ever. And maybe you will have a wild honeymoon season when you come out. My third is 18 months now and LOOK OUT! 😉

  3. I have suffered PPD w both children. I’ve been on & off meds but am currently off of them. I don’t like the side effects. What are some other ways to overcome PPD?

    1. Have you tried different medications? I took an antidepressant once that I hated, but another kind was fine. Other options are exercise, sunlight, B-complex vitamins, over-the-counter St. John’s Wort (but check that with your doctor), positive self-talk, etc. Do some online research into PPD and look for treatment alternatives. And bless your heart — it really is so hard to go through PPD.

      1. I’ve tried “several” anti depressants. I also take plenty of B-complex. I’ve tried SJW to no avail. I’m even trying essential oils. I’ve talked to several doctors & they don’t want to explore this further. So I just live like I live. And anyone who has dealt w PPD knows you just survive. Couple PPD w having my tubes tied w child #2 and that’s awhile other post!!

        1. Why don’t the doctors want to explore further? I’d ask around and find a doctor willing to figure this out with me. I’ve become very persistent about that sort of thing — advocating for my health. I don’t want to be a hypochondriac, of course, but when something is really wrong…you need answers.

          I’m so sorry for your tough journey! I pray you find something that helps.

          1. I won’t go into a huge explanation on here. But I will say, I truly wish I could find a Dr or OBGYN that would listen. Not only did/do I have PPD, I had my tubes tied. That adds awhile new dimension. (I think I said that earlier. Sorry). I’ve thought of a naturopath, but my insurance won’t cover it.

        2. Careful with the B-complex. I was so proud of myself for starting them several months ago (one of those things I knew I “should” do but couldn’t make myself), but after anxiety and depression kept getting worse, I discovered they can cause those reactions in some people. (I didn’t have that reaction when I took them during pregnancy years ago.) I’ve been off them now 2 weeks and the anxiety has practically gone away. That may not be your issue of course, but something to consider/look into.

          1. Hmm…I didn’t know that. I will definitely look into it. I’ve gone a few weeks w/o it but was do out-of-it & lethargic, I went back on them. Thanks!!

  4. I never experienced PPD with my first 3 pregnancies but after 20 years of marriage and 3 teenagers who are 14, 17, and 18 years old, God thought it would be fun to bless us with another baby. It has been the most joyous time…until I found out 2 weeks ago our son has trisomy 18. He has lots of problems and isn’t expected to live more than a few minutes- if he even makes it to term. I’m a NICU nurse who has taken care of the tiniest, sickest babies and now I’m having a baby no one can save.
    Im scared this time around is gonna be really tough so I’m grateful you women have shared your experiences- knowing other women have gone through such hard times and have gotten through it gives me hope that I can make it too and am not alone.

    1. I’m so very sorry. My heart absolutely breaks for you and your family. Sometimes life just doesn’t make sense. May God hold and comfort you in this difficult time.

  5. Perhaps, being a guy, I shouldn’t presume to comment about this, but I hope what I write will be helpful. My wife tells me that PPD can really be bad, so you have my complete sympathy.

    I believe all the comments about seeking medical help and maybe getting a scrip for depression will be helpful. I want to suggest some other things: First, perhaps you could work on your mental imagery. You’re trapped in a pit right now, and all you can think about is your depression. Can you remember the joy of your relationship with your husband as it was before? Meditate on how good it was when the two of you made love, how comforting it was to be held by him, and how peaceful and fulfilled you felt after you climaxed from his ministrations. And then realize that all of that is going to happen again, because you won’t be like you are right now forever! Now you have something to look forward to! Realizing, internalizing, that you will get better is the first step toward getting better. The question then becomes: What can you do to get there? So, second suggestion is to realize that you do have some control over your recovery and that you’re really not totally helpless here. Make yourself get up and get some exercise and make the endorphins flow again. Start going for walks, and take your husband with you. You can talk to him while you’re both out walking and begin to reconnect once again. God wants you well, and He’s going to see that you get well!

    Get back in touch with J in a couple of months and let us all know how you’re doing. We all can benefit from hearing your testimony on how He is working in your life!

    1. I think this is good advice.

      By the way, it’s so hard to get the energy to even go out for a walk when you’re in the midst of depression, but it really would be helpful. In fact, that could be some of the help someone asks for — a neighbor to go walking with her, maybe even push a stroller or a pull a kid wagon? Thanks, Ham.

    2. you’ve never had depression have you?

      Um no actually, you can’t. You can’t remember ever feeling happy and you can’t imagine feeling anything but terrible ever again. I’m not saying trying to change your thinking is bad. But asking a person who’s trying not to kill themselves, or trying to convince themselves that they may have enough energy to get out of bed to look forward to something is kind of cruel.

      You can tell yourself factually that it won’t always be like this. But trying to manufacture/ recall feelings is a exercise in futile frustration.

      1. I do recall being amazed how physical and overwhelming depression felt. It’s far, far more than sadness.

        However, I do believe positive self-talk can be one component of treating depression. I believe psychology supports that, although certainly it’s not enough for 99.99% of depression sufferers.

        1. OH yes certainly. Like I said, I’m not against changing your thought patterns. Positive self-talk does help. Negative self-talk does make it worse. I’m a big fan of cognitive behavioral therapy, But the writer seems to be specifically trying to recall feelings/ looking forward too something. I just want to point out to him that that is likely impossible. Saying something like “…Meditate on how good it was when the two of you made love, how comforting it was to be held by him, and how peaceful and fulfilled you felt after you climaxed from his ministrations”, especially in the context of something so emotionally charged as sex, is potentially damaging to both of them. She might not physically be able to remember it. Which might make him feel bad, because men are so concerned about being good lovers, which will make her feel guilty/ bad about herself ect. You see where I’m going? Don’t dwell on emotions. Dwell on facts. Work on truth and proper thinking, not feelings.

      2. There are definitely different degrees in which people suffer with depression, too. Therefore, some could be helped with positive self-talk, and others can’t.

      3. Actually, Alchemist, I have been depressed before. SERIOUSLY depressed! I was so depressed that I truly considered killing both myself and my wife. I was sure that would be the only way to end the pain and suffering. This went on for weeks, but then let me tell you what happened. Even though I was sure the situation was hopeless, I somehow summoned up just enough faith to think that MAYBE God could help us somehow! THE VERY NEXT DAY, even though I had not verbalized this to anyone, people came who were able to help me get out of the mess I was in, and things got better. The whole story is much too long to tell here,but suffice it to say that the situation ended up working out much better than I could have ever hoped for, albeit not in any way like I thought it would. So, no, I don’t have any experience with PPD, but I know what it’s like to come close to losing all hope. All I can say is, God is there, and He is waiting for us to ask Him for His help!

  6. I don’t really have anything helpful to add, but I just wanted to tell the wife who wrote in that she is not alone. I probably could have written everything she did a year ago when my second baby was born.

    It sounds like her husband is pretty sympathetic to her. Mine is too. He gave me a lot of time and healthy space to work through my issues and get back to being myself. That was so helpful of him and I’m forever grateful.

    1. As usual, when I answer these questions, I sort of wish I could talk to the spouse. I’d encourage this husband to do as you say — be sympathetic, helpful, and patient. This is, after all, a season. Blessings!

  7. I don’t know about PPD or marriage. I’ve only ever dealt with depression as a single person without kids. I don’t even know how you cope with kids to take care of. But I guess I have a pretty good chance of finding out.

    Self-care is super important. Getting sunlight and exercise and healthy food is very important. So is sleep… It’s hard, but you have to just do it. Set one goal, like taking a shower, or taking your kids for a walk, or cooking dinner, or making your bed and reward yourself for doing it. Just baby steps. Self-care isn’t always enough though. Which leads us into

    Anti-depressants. I’ve been on at least 4. Some of them works great, others not so much. Just keep trying. My doctor said there was a blood test that you could do to help narrow down with anti-depressant might work r for you. That might be something to look into. Trying to find the right meds is a difficult process. Specially since you don’t really know whether or not it works for 4 + weeks.

    Fun fact. Depression isn’t the same each time. Symptoms can be completely different from episode to episode. Just something to keep in mind.

  8. This is a great, real life topic. Thank You for this post. It addresses both worlds and should help the opposite sex understand the struggle. My wife is an angel, but during ‘those years’ she struggled. I struggled understanding what she was going through. It produced frustration on both ends. I felt guilty for choking my chicken in private, she felt guilty for putting everything else first. Nobody is at fault, just need to communicate and be understanding about what your spouse is going through.

      1. I almost referred to it as ‘taking little Elvis to Graceland’ but wanted to keep it simple. I am so thankful for your writing. Keeps me in check on my brides life challenges.

  9. Am I the only one here who thinks that masturbating at work is a really bad idea?! Talk about a career limiting move if someone gets an inkling of what he is doing.

    1. That’s a possibility. I had no idea what he did. He could be in his own office with a private bathroom, his own boss.

  10. Thank you for your sweet answers to this dear lady’s questions and struggles. I enjoy learning through these articles that are written for our growth and encouragement. I’ve been reading through these comments and am overwhelmed by how many have and do suffer with PPD or depression. If I may offer some tangible, physical hope: I’ve been learning a lot lately of how blood sugar affects moods, mental health as well as almost all physical health. I have a dear friend, young momma and wife, who loves the Lord and her family who suffered badly with PPD after her second born. She was able to start taking a natural product that addresses blood sugar and within that week she noticed her PPD was lifting! I also use this same product and have found that my energy, drive and overall health has improved immensely. I only share this to bring hope and healing to anyone in need. I’ve love connecting with folks and would love offering something I know can help. Thank you, J, for your wise words and knowledge on this subject.

  11. J – For what it’s worth, I think you nailed this.
    Have a friend who gets PPD really bad. Last time around the husband made sure she has a prescription ready and she was on some med within 24 hours. She still struggled, but it was way, way less horrible.
    As to the masturbation, I think it is always necessary to let your spouse in on the fact. Not so much permission as informing. Then s/he can decide if they want to be involved in some way, or find a way to do it themselves.

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