Standing in my kitchen, staring out onto the garden where family and friends would join me to celebrate my 50th birthday later that week, overwhelming sadness gave way to a wild and desperate thought: should I ask my husband for permission to seek sexual intimacy elsewhere?
It was a fleeting notion, born out of deep hurt and frustration over the fact that Brian and I had made love just once in nearly eight years. But one shocking enough, as this landmark birthday approached, to make me realise just how wretched my sexless marriage was making me feel.
At that point almost four years had passed since we’d last had sex — something that had happened spontaneously, and very enjoyably, after a four-year drought. I remember feeling great relief afterwards, convinced this meant our sex life was back on track. But it wasn’t.
Ulrika Jonsson, 52, revealed she considered having an affair before the breakdown of her marriage with ex-husband Brian (pictured together)
We never made love again, which is something that remains incredibly perplexing to me, not least because I’ve never got to the bottom of why. Sadly, our marriage irretrievably broke down six months later, ending in divorce this summer.
That intimacy became such an issue for us still astounds me. In the early years of our relationship — we met in 2006 — it was an uncomplicated act based on mutual passion and similarly matched libidos. But sex gradually petered out to nothing.
I never gave up asking my husband what on earth had gone wrong, right up until he moved out. I never suspected an affair — more that he’d gone off me — but he refused to talk about it.
This sense that he didn’t fancy me any more had the knock-on effect of making me feel I should hide my body. I began undressing in the dark and locking the bathroom door when I showered, worried the sight of me had become a terrible turn off.
It didn’t help that the odd time I instigated sex, Brian made it clear he wasn’t interested. These rebuffs crippled my confidence. Unsurprisingly, I vowed not to open myself up to similar humiliation again.
Of course, no couple expects to be swinging from the chandeliers when they’ve been together for years and have children to raise — four in our case. But the idea I had ceased to be a sexual creature in my husband’s eyes caused me great distress.
I loved Brian and wanted us to connect on a deeper level than doing chores and arguing over whose turn it was to put out the bins. Intimacy is what elevates a relationship; it saves it from the mundane.
After two failed marriages, I truly believed I’d found the man with whom I would grow old, and that while our sex life would naturally slow down over the years, we’d remain intimate, one way or another, into our dotage.
Ulrika (pictured) who began her hormonal shift in her late 40s, says Brian showed no concern over her mental anguish
But for it to hit a dead end — and when we were still relatively young — felt like a terrible loss. Even marital counselling couldn’t get to the bottom of our sex life’s untimely death.
Compounding my sorrow over this situation was the profound impact the menopause was having on me at that time, predominantly on my mental health and sense of self.
Prior to this hormonal shift, which started in my late 40s, I’d always felt that I had counted for something: that I mattered and people noticed me; that I was still a vibrant sexual being.
I say all that not in the sense of being a celebrity, but as a person in my own right. As the menopause got its claws into me I began to turn in on myself, becoming horribly anxious while suffering from terrifying memory loss and crippling insomnia.
At the same time, the sexual vitality I’d always taken for granted left me. Indeed, the thought of me having ever been a woman who once relished sex — and I’m not embarrassed to say I most certainly did — had become an entirely foreign concept.
All these things combined to make me feel as though the old me had died and another person, who I didn’t recognise, had taken up residence inside my body.
That Brian, who’d vowed to love me for the rest of my life, showed no concern over my mental anguish, while making no pretence to still fancy me, added to a disconcerting feeling that who I was had disappeared.
Ulrika (pictured with Brian and their four children) admits she longed for Brian to say that he still fancies her, after she begun the menopause
I know what you’re thinking: if her sexual mojo had abandoned her why would she care that her husband didn’t want to have sex with her any more? Surely, that was the best-case scenario.
But, as any woman going through similar hormonal flux will appreciate, it’s all so much more complicated than that.
Here’s the thing: as the menopause tightened its grip, I needed intimacy more than ever before. I needed my husband to become a safe harbour; to wrap his arms around me and say: ‘I know you’re suffering, and I want to help.’
I longed for Brian to tell me: ‘Forget that you’ve gained ten pounds and your body’s changing — I still fancy you like crazy and want to have sex with you because you are the woman I love.’ But he didn’t.
A woman’s sexuality is such a complex thing, especially within the realms of a long-term relationship, and never more so than when the menopause strikes. My libido was ebbing, but with my husband’s support I honestly think it could have been fired back up with kind words and gentle touch.
If Brian had reassured me that this undeniable part of the ageing process didn’t make me less of a woman; if he’d insisted that aesthetics weren’t relevant since what he felt for me went beyond all that, and we could find a way forward together, I’m certain my sex drive could have been coaxed back.
But as it was, I felt the menopause and all its wretched side-effects was something I had to go through alone.
I’d gained a bit of weight, my memory was shocking — so much so I’d begun to wonder if I had dementia — and the anxiety I felt sometimes stopped me from going out. And yet Brian didn’t even attempt to empathise.
Ulrika (pictured) says although she considered intimacy outside of her marriage, she wouldn’t actually embark on it
In fact, whenever I raised the fact I was struggling, he seemed to shrug it off — the upsetting truth was he didn’t appear to be remotely interested in how hard I was finding things.
No wonder then, as I stood in my kitchen on the brink of my 50th birthday, I felt so horribly alone. Or that the crazy idea of finding intimacy outside of my marriage might offer a solution momentarily made sense to me.
But as I said earlier, this thought was transitory and born out of sheer desperation — infidelity was an act I knew full well I would never actually embark on, let alone seek Brian’s permission to pursue.
Newsweek magazine estimates that 15 to 20 per cent of couples are in a sexless relationship
Indeed, it only occurred to me to ask in the first place because I’d reached a point where shock tactics seemed the only way to get my husband’s attention — the only way to force him to realise just how miserable I’d become, while communicating the urgency of our situation.
I knew damn well I didn’t want to be with anyone else; that I revered the family we’d built together too much to betray it.
But I also couldn’t reconcile myself to never being touched or made love to again.
Uttering those words would have been the ultimate cry for help within my marriage. Thankfully though, they remained unspoken, meaning that as my relationship fell apart, my dignity, at least, remained intact. Last month I celebrated my 52nd birthday and, boy, what a difference those two years have made.
Brian and I divorced this summer. I can’t say the menopause, or our non-existent sex life, were what caused that — it was more complicated than that. But they were certainly big factors.
Ulrika (pictured) revealed women have been contacting her with their own experiences of a hellish menopause
Now, of course, I’m free to pursue sexual intimacy with whomever I like, and yet to do so would still feel like a betrayal of our relationship. Bonkers, I know.
But things are still incredibly raw, and eventually I’ll have to overcome that because I do want to have sex again. It makes you feel alive in a way nothing else can — I don’t want to never know that again.
In the meantime, now I’m no longer focused on my fractured marriage, I’ve been able to reinvest my energies into nurturing my family and my own sense of self.
Part of that has involved sharing, with previous articles in this newspaper and on social media, what a struggle the menopause has been for me and the negative impact that had on my relationship. The response has been truly astounding.
Women up and down the land have been in touch, sharing their own, often quite wretched, experiences.
Many have told me how brave they think I am to speak so publicly about how hellish menopausal symptoms can be.
Actually, I don’t feel brave for that at all — it’s a story so many of us are living, and finally getting to share the experience feels incredibly positive and life affirming.
However, I’ll confess that I’ve had to dig deep to find the courage to open up about the impact the menopause has had on me as a sexual being, and the loss of intimacy in my relationship.
Admitting to being in a sexless marriage feels like a great taboo — even the closest of girlfriends are loath to admit it when sex ceases to be a part of their relationship. It suggests you’re not wanted; that that side of you has been worn out — it’s incredibly difficult to open up about feelings like that.
Ulrika (pictured) who got divorced from Brian this summer, says intimacy keeps couples close regardless of the menopause’s impact on libido
But I’m glad I have because I know I’m not alone in this and I want other women to know it’s ok to talk about this issue. Because, while communication failed Brian and me, I believe it has the power to save countless other relationships.
Of the messages I’ve had this summer from women sharing their own tales of woe, so many deeply moved me. But just one made me weep.
And that came from a woman whose husband, when she told him that she was heading into the menopause and finding it dreadfully hard, immediately set about learning all he could about what she might be going through.
She told me that after he started reading up, he took her by the hand and said: ‘This must be so very hard for you.’ And then promised that it was a journey they would embark on together.
That’s the kind of intimacy that keeps couples close, whatever the impact menopause has on libido. I just wish my own husband had felt the same way.
The sadness of a marriage without intimacy
Emma Skeates, 51, writes a blog, the Menopausal Mayhem Mothers, where she takes a sideways look at the effects of the menopause — poking fun at her symptoms and opening up to her 100,000 followers. Emma, whose menopause was surgically induced following a hysterectomy nine years ago, lives in Sussex with her property developer husband, also 51, and her two children, aged 15 and 16. She says:
My surgeon warned me that, beyond the associated physical symptoms such as hot flushes and brain fog, becoming menopausal could make me feel differently about life and have an impact on my sense of self. She wasn’t wrong.
The blow to my confidence has been huge — I’ve developed memory problems and become one of life’s worriers, which is completely out of character.
But what’s shocked me is how much it’s affected my sex drive and my sense of myself as a sexual being. It goes beyond the fact that I’ve gained weight and feel less confident about my husband seeing me naked, which I really don’t like to happen any more.
I just don’t feel desire, which must come down to hormonal changes.
Blogger Emma Skeates, 51, (pictured) revealed sex has become something on her chore list, since the menopause
My husband is clear he still finds me attractive — and I fancy him, too. But that strong urge I used to have to have sex has gone.
I tell girlfriends that even if George Clooney knocked on my door and pleaded to make love to me, I would offer him nothing more exciting than a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits.
The awkward truth is that having sex has become something on my chore list — one of those things you do every so often in order to help life continue as smoothly as possible.
That doesn’t sound remotely romantic, I know, and when I actually get down to it I do enjoy sex and how close it makes me feel to my husband. But, these days, having had a fairly high sex drive before the menopause, now I do it for my husband, not for me, and as infrequently as I can get away with.
Thankfully, he’s incredibly sympathetic and supportive — we’re able to find humour in the situation, joking about me lying back and thinking of England, which helps diffuse potential angst. If we weren’t able to do that, then I’m sure my lack of libido and our reduced intimacy would now be causing problems.
Like Ulrika, Janet Davies, 53, also considered extramarital relationships as a way of resolving the lack of intimacy in her marriage. After the menopause, she no longer had any sexual desire, which caused tension at home. She says:
I suggested my husband seek gratification elsewhere — he took me at my word and did just that, before leaving me for the woman he said made him feel wanted again.
How I wish I had never offered this as a possible solution. But I wasn’t thinking straight at the time: my hormones were all over the place and I didn’t feel like me any more. Instead of supporting me through that, my husband somehow used it as a weapon against me — he said I wasn’t the woman he had married, as though that justified him leaving me behind.
After the marriage ended, I went on to HRT, which not only gave me back my libido, but within days of taking it I felt like myself again.
If I had taken it sooner, perhaps my marriage wouldn’t have fallen apart so spectacularly. But I’m glad my eyes were opened to my husband’s true character.
Going through the menopause was hell, but at least now I’m free of a man who was determined not to support me through what was an incredibly difficult time.
Some names have been changed.
Interviews by Rachel Halliwell