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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.