Poisonous: 'It is like a perversion of the evolution theory: they have evolved into creatures whose function is simply to get the most for doing the least,' says one husband

Once upon a time, there was a truth, universally acknowledged, that a man with a powerful job and a beautiful house must be in want of a wife - preferably of the trophy variety. Domesticated, docile yet dazzling, she was the perfect finishing touch.

Not any more. According to research to be published in the journal Labour Economics, the earnings gap between married couples is narrowing. While in the 1980s it was the case that the higher a professional man's salary the fewer paid hours his wife would put in, men today are more likely to want a dynamic high-flier, an equal who wows him as much in the boardroom as in the bedroom.

A victory for feminism? Sadly not. The reason for this change, sisters, is nothing to be proud of.

Rich men, I believe, have finally cottoned on to the sinister side of the stay-at-home wife: unless you marry an equal who's going to pay her own way, you will end up with a lazy, indulgent, over-pampered slug. For the transition from trophy wife to toxic wife is as fast as the end result is furious.

I should know: many men of my age and acquaintance have become deeply bitter and disappointed about how their wives have changed since they hung up their working wardrobes. I am talking about university-educated women (often Oxbridge graduates) who do a couple of years work in the City before harnessing themselves to a milch cow and "having it all".

Apparently there's a new take on "having it all" - and it's not what the majority of us understood it to mean. Back in the 1970s, it meant effortlessly maintaining a beautiful home, entertaining in grand style, raising perfect children, keeping the husband sweet and having some sort of career in order to create financial independence.

"Superwoman" was the phrase coined for these energetic pioneers; "trophy wives" for the less energetic ones. Today it's a whole new ball game.

"It is like a perversion of the evolution theory: they have evolved into creatures whose function is simply to get the most for doing the least," whispered an exhausted husband to me recently. "I wouldn't mind providing her with so much if she just did something for me occasionally. She's never even once cooked me a meal."

"She doesn't know the definition of sacrifice," said another angry husband. "Relationships are meant to be about compromise, but she is more about selfishness. I bend and adapt to her needs, yet all she gives me are ultimatums."

"Can't you just divorce?" I asked.

"Are you kidding?" he replied. "I'd lose everything I've worked for, including my children, and I'd be paying her an indecent amount of money for life."

"There's another reason these husbands don't divorce," added a sympathetic onlooker. "They don't want to admit to failure - they don't want to be ungallant. There's an unspoken nobility or gentlemanly understanding that divorce is something they don't do."

Indeed, "something they don't do" is a mantra that extends to practically every area of toxic wifedom. Once an intelligent, educated woman who could hold her own in any dinner-party conversation, the toxic wife will do nothing of the sort.

"They not only become utterly vacant, they never throw dinner parties or entertain anyone outside of their small, closeted circle of other vacant wives," said irate husband number one.

"None of us can understand this: they become obsessed with perfection, grooming, with all aspects of their personal appearance... in a word, they become boring."

"Vain, boring, indulgent and lazy," adds yet another voice to the growing army of fed-up husbands. "I have to take the children out of the house every Sunday morning and wander around with them trying to find things to do because my wife must have a lie-in. I'm only allowed back in the house after 11am. Sunday is the nanny's day off, you see."

"My wife," chipped in husband number two, "gives over the whole of the weekend to pursuing what she calls 'me time'. She goes to retreats, yoga mini-breaks, a spa, a health farm, even art classes... all of which I pay for, of course. What do I get back in return? Nothing."

So today's concept of a wife "having it all", simply put, means never doing anything personally if she can pay someone else to do it for her. And if she can't find someone else, her husband must do it.

"To be frank," said another unfortunate husband, "I was conned. And I'm by no means the only one. There's a pattern of behaviour that these wives all adopt."

There are five tell-tale signs, apparently. First, she gives up work, ostensibly to care for the brood, only to have the children packed off to either boarding school or intensive (ie, lots of extra-curricular activities) private day schools.

Secondly, she suddenly wants to move somewhere more rural/suburban that suits her idea of family life, yet location-wise is horrendous for her exhausted, ever-commuting husband.

Thirdly, she demands wall-to-wall help, which nearly always includes an abused Filipina who works 12-14 hours a day, six days a week.

Fourthly, she refuses to fulfill in any way the traditional contract of the non-working spouse in terms of doing anything for her husband (such as cooking), while, fifthly, she expects her husband to fulfill the traditional but anachronistic male role in the household (such as paying all the bills).

Here is a typical day outlined by one husband of a toxic wife.

5.30am: Husband leaves for London.
7.45am: Filipina brings wife tea in bed.
8am: Nanny takes children to school.
8.30am: Breakfast, suduko and the papers.
9.30am-4pm: God knows; possibly gym, spa, shopping, boozy lunch with friends, nap or massage.
4pm: Nanny collects children from school.
5.30pm: Nanny gives children tea and goes home.
7pm: Filipina gives children bath.
7.30pm: Wife disappears off to book group.
9pm: Husband returns and roots around for an M&S ready-meal.
10.30pm: Wife returns. Bed.
10.35pm: Sex? In your dreams.

If the above timetable seems hideously parasitic, it is, and so is the woman behind it. The other day I nervously accepted an invitation for lunch with an old school friend. I felt daunted because, several years ago, she married a rich banker and I'd been dumped from her circle.

"Sorry I'm late," I said on arriving at her mansion. "Got stuck in traffic so bad it gave me road rage."

"Road rage?" replied Olivia, her eyes swivelling down to my shoes and up to my hair in a split, judgmental second. "Well, I'm suffering from maid rage. I mean, come and look..."

She led me into her kitchen, three times the size of my flat, and slid open a drawer. "How shoddy is that?" She was holding up a fork.

"What's wrong with it?" I asked, peering at it politely.

"Just look! It has a disgusting piece of encrusted mashed potato on it. I mean, it's so shoddy! She can't even unload a dishwasher. I'm really going to have to sack her. And guess what else I discovered this morning? When I opened the towel cupboard after my bath, I noticed that she'd stacked the pink towels amongst the white ones. Can you believe it?"

What made this conversation so scary was the fact that the terrified Filipina was in the room with us, hunched over a table slicing up bits of duck and foie gras for our lunch. "Juanita!" snapped Olivia. "This is your last chance. Do you understand me? You'll be back in Manila within the week... I couldn't possibly recommend you to anyone. Understand?"

"Yes Madam," she sniffed with a tremulous sob.

"And stop dripping your revolting bodily fluids over our lunch. Throw that away and start again. "

Horrified by her manner and the distressing scene, I asked her for a tour of her home. She had just moved into one of those massive houses in Chelsea Square. Rich folk tolerate people like me (ie, broke ones) only because we make them feel better about themselves.

"Would love to, darling," she drawled, "but first how about a drinkie-poo? Juanita! Open the champagne chilling in the wine fridge and bring it upstairs to the south drawing-room."

"Yes Madam," replied the poor slave.

"I won't have any, thanks," I said. "I'm driving and have to pick my children up from school."

"You mean you don't have a nanny to do it?" Olivia's eyes glared with horror. "I have the most delightful Norland one. Although the uniform is brown and ghastly, they are so well trained. She's downstairs in the basement doing my ironing at the moment..."

This was now utterly surreal. I had no idea that real people lived like this. Yet, minute by agonising minute, it got worse. I tried a bit of light humour.

"Well, let's hope she's not weeping tears on to your party dresses, eh?"

"What?" snapped Olivia.

"Well, then you'd ask her to redo the whole lot again, wouldn't you?"

"Possibly," she replied. "But a little moisture is no bad thing when ironing out the creases..."

Was she exhibiting a dry wit? I didn't know. In her pre-toxic wife days, she was amusing and droll. Now we were different beings living in parallel universes. She showed me lavish room after lavish room, and at one point I heard some strange shuffling coming from one of her closets. Maybe her life is not so perfect after all, I thought; maybe she has rats.

As we sat down to lunch in the "informal" dining-room adjacent to the kitchen in an open-plan L-shape, I noticed that Juanita was eating a rather more humble repast slightly around the corner; although I couldn't see all of her, I could detect an elbow jutting out from time to time.

"She won't be joining us then?"

"Are you mad?" cried Olivia. "Why would I want to even see my servants?"

As if on cue, a wizened little Filipino man appeared, bowing and scraping. "Madam, I have finished all the shoes. I will go now, thank you madam." He hurried out.

"See you on Thursday as normal, Pedro," she replied, barely glancing at him.

"Where did he spring from?" I asked. After all, I'd just endured an exhaustive survey of her house, and there had been no sign of Pedro.

"Oh, he's our shoe polisher. He comes twice a week. He works in a cupboard - probably why you didn't notice him." No rats after all.

Here was an educated woman who spent her days rotting her brain with alcohol, and bossing an army of staff.

"Olivia," I said, "don't you miss your old job, your financial independence? Isn't all this a bit decadent?"

"Forget the work ethic," she laughed. "Why on earth would I want to struggle, feel tired and look old before my time?"

I left, more agitated than when I arrived. Forget road rage; I was suffering from toxic-wife rage. Driving to collect my children, the outside world felt like a haven of normality and peace. How I pitied these rich and successful men who had naively hoped for a domestic goddess, only to end up with a diva.

Wake up, toxic wives, the game is over. Your milch cows have seen the light of day. You are toxic, you are trouble and you are about to become extinct.

Don't fall for this deadly honey trap

Toxic wives leave everything to their staff while they shop, lunch and luxuriate - and make their husbands' lives a misery

You may not know one personally, but you will certainly have read about them. They are, increasingly these days, the figures who emerge triumphant from the divorce courts. They are the ones who get to keep the house (no mortgage), the cars (usually more than one), the staff (approaching double figures) and, more often than not, half the husband's fortune, regardless of what she has done to contribute towards it.

I'm not talking about the ones who sacrificed careers at the altar of family life only to be cruelly abandoned when their useful days are done. I'm talking about the ones who knowingly take their husbands to the cleaners claiming, while they are at it, that they could do with £20 million or so to keep them in blow-drys. What kind of person actually needs £20 million for spending money? The Toxic Wife, that's who.

Such was the furore earlier this year over my identification of Toxic Wife Syndrome in the pages of the Telegraph that it is clear I have hit a raw nerve. From the staggering response, from Japan to Iraq and America to Berkshire (where my article is now framed in the gentlemen's loo of a Lambourn pub), there is little doubt about the course of action required: toxic wives must be weeded out.

Let me remind you what a toxic wife is - some of you got the wrong end of the stick when I first addressed this issue, thinking I was referring to all stay-at-home-mothers and housewives. Not a bit of it. I have every admiration for women who choose the selfless task of caring and nurturing the next generation. No, the toxic wife is a completely different species.

She is the woman who gives up work as soon as she marries, ostensibly to create a stable home environment for any children that might come along, but who then employs large numbers of staff to do all the domestic work she promised to undertake, leaving her with little to do all day except shop, lunch, luxuriate. Believe me, there is no shortage of the breed and I've been inundated with horror tales about them.

There is, for example, the TW who made around £30 million from only four years of marriage. Her husband couldn't stand the way she was abusive to his staff, aggressive towards him and extravagantly indulgent with herself.

Then, there's the ex-wife of a friend of mine, Belinda, who has been awarded several million pounds for a marriage that lasted less than three years and produced no children. The sum amounts to almost £5,000 for every day of marriage. No wonder her ex-husband, let's call him Crispin, a City financier, is in despair. After reading the article he told me: ''Giving her £5 million for doing absolutely nothing except shop and lunch makes me question the sanity of our legal system.''

Of course, there is no fail-safe way of knowing what someone is like until you live with them, as Crispin says he discovered to his cost. ''She put a gun to my head and I took the bullet,'' he admits. ''I think she must have been following the text book

'How to trap your man', because she refused to live with me until we got married. I made a stupid mistake and now I have to pay for it.''

Soon after their wedding, Belinda gave up work to care for the house. ''At first, I couldn't understand why, because we had a cleaner who cleaned, a gardener who gardened and home cooking was provided by M&S,'' says Crispin. ''Overnight she changed.

"Friends were no longer allowed to drop in like they used to - at least a week's notice had to be given. Shoes had to be taken off at the front door. She became nagging, scolding, overbearing and shrewish. She made my life a misery. It pains me that this able-bodied, 40-year-old woman will be handsomely rewarded for the rest of her life - all at my expense. I feel as though I'm the victim of legally sanctioned burglary.''

Capturing a rich husband is seen as a legitimate career choice in itself. A 25-year-old banker friend told me that many girls don't even bother getting a job after university - they stay on the party circuit until they've trapped their milch-cow.

''Just turn up at Mahiki, (the London nightclub frequented by Princes William and Harry) and you'll find an army of potential TWs... they're like a gang of seductive, pretty vampires who are sharpening their talons and teeth in a bid to catch a rich husband and then suck him dry of his hard-earned cash. It's common knowledge now that one of the most lucrative careers a woman can have is to get married, have a child, and get divorced.''

Not only do ex-husbands of TWs get skinned alive when they divorce, the toxicity levels reach a poisonous high, goaded and condoned by society. Indeed, I heard of a high-profile divorce lawyer who said to the wife of an acquaintance of mine: ''When you leave my office you must hate your husband as much as possible.'' How toxic can you get?

But TWs are not confined to the divorce courts - many of them are toxic mothers, too. Only this week, when I was trudging up Kensington Park Road, I spotted a serious TW. She was striding ahead of her beautiful young son, a bejewelled ear clasped to her mobile phone while her son pleaded: ''Mummy! Mummy! Won't you hold my hand?''

''Oh stop being mental,'' was her terse, distracted response.

Traipsing behind, the little boy burst into sobs. ''Oh do shut up,'' she said, her voice thick with irritation.

Believe me, there is a completely different species out there. They may look human, in an artificially manufactured way, but they don't seem tohave any conscience or interest in anything other than the trivial minutiae of their own existence and, naturally, how to hitch themselves to an alpha-male.

According to Susie Ambrose, who runs a ''gold-digger-vetting'' business called Seventy Thirty, there are increasing amounts of women who are desperately materialistic and who have learnt the art of ''faking love''. They don't want to marry for emotional support, intimacy or companionship; they are driven by monetary rewards. And, dear readers, they walk among us.

So how can you spot a potential toxic wife? I feel it is my duty to provide you with a checklist (courtesy of Susie Ambrose). This is vital reading material for all you potential husbands. Pay close attention; this is professional advice from an expert and it could save you millions - not to mention your sanity. And, women, too, take note - for it could save love and marriage from becoming things of the past.


1 Women who are secure in themselves and have a more developed emotional intelligence and personal depth do not feel the need to show off. Check whether or not she is festooned with 'designer' accessories. Listen carefully to what she says. How often does she name-drop?

2 On first acquaintance, she will want to find out if you're rich or not. If you find yourself discussing your assets within the first 10 minutes you know her agenda. She is not going to waste time on you if you don't have serious money.

3 She will flirt without first finding out if you're married or involved with someone else. She has no scruples about stealing another woman's man.

4 Even though she may have an impressive job, her main asset is sex. She will come on in a highly provocative manner, be wearing lots of make-up and revealing clothes. Potential toxic wives are extremely clever. Do not equate intelligence with emotional values and worth.

5 Often she will use the FSFM tactic (feel sorry for me). This will manifest itself on the second or third date. She wants to assess how generous you can be and will tell you how ''naïve" she is and how "misled'' by some nasty people she owes money to. As a chivalrous male, you get out your chequebook.

6 You must find out how motivated she is. Ask her what her future goals, dreams and aspirations are.

7 Toxic gold-diggers tend to target older men. And your level of physical attractiveness makes no difference. Do you genuinely wildly arouse her or is this all an act?

8 She will choose the most expensive item on the menu or the most expensive drink.

9 Men, who have been recently widowed or divorced are great prey. You are at your most vulnerable.

10 Before you marry, go on holiday together or spend at least some time co-habiting. Remember, if you make a mistake you will pay for it for the rest of your life.