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When 'Girl Power' Marriages Lose Their Spark

13/08/2014 20:51 BST | Updated 12/10/2014 10:59 BST

The rise of the female professional long preceded the first appearance by The Spice Girls on the UK's music charts.

For many, though, the tipping point at which women were recognised as breaking through the glass ceiling arguably only came when the phrase 'Girl Power' coined by the popular girl band entered the popular vocabulary.

But what females across all industries really, really, really wanted was to be given the same opportunities as their male colleagues based on their abilities not their gender.

That they have succeeded can be measured in a number of different ways. Last year, for example, research published by the House of Commons' Library

discovered that women accounted for almost a quarter of all MPs, nearly 50 per cent of GPs and more than one-in-six of all directors in FTSE 100 companies.

With success comes seniority which, in turn, usually with comes a salary to match. As Henry Kissinger once observed, on top of those direct benefits of being good at one's job often comes another - added sex appeal.

That allure is not only attractive to individuals of the same age but those younger too who find themselves drawn to women who they can respect and fancy at the same time.

It might not be surprising, therefore, that over the last 15 years or so, myself and my colleagues in JMW's Family department have noticed an increase in the number of marriages in which women have been the older partner.

It is perhaps another expression of the confidence which we are led to believe that their counterparts in previous generations did not possess.

A reverse of the ages is the domestic situation which tradition might have us believe to be the norm.

That's not only our experience but the conclusion of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In June, it published figures showing that there had been 4,306 marriages in England and Wales in 2012 involving women in their mid-thirties to early forties and men aged between 25 and 34.

That's not the entire picture either. The same data reveals that the age gap was not the most extreme, noting 168 cases in which men aged less than 25 wed women who were more than 40-years-old. Sixteen of those ceremonies involved brides of pension age.

However, it would seem that, in many cases, marriage does not automatically make for a happy ending. We are seeing a growing tide of women of this sort who are being divorced by their younger husbands as soon as they reach middle age. In fact, cases of this nature are up just over a third in the course of the last three years.

One frequent feature of this kind of divorce is that the pain of separation is magnified when the woman learns her ex-husband has married again - often, by some quirk, to a woman who is equally as much the partnership's junior partner as the man had been in his previous marriage.

For many of the women concerned, it feels like something of a double-whammy. They may well still be very elegant, poised and capable but are merely showing signs of ageing.

Yet the problem for some men, especially those still harbouring ambitions of fathering children, is that the age gap which hadn't posed any issues while they were dating or even in the early years of marriage simply becomes visible and a difficulty.

In my experience, it's not as though neither spouse was committed to the relationship. On the contrary, the women concerned might have tried to use some of the energy which fuelled their own success to assist their husbands attempts to get ahead.

The women experiencing marital breakdown are not alone or in the majority. Instances of older men marrying and being divorced by younger women are still far more common.

That will come as no consolation, though, when they realise that, after professional triumph and a marriage begun with such hope, they have been added to the growing tally of 'silver splitters'.