Charlotte Triggs
January 14, 2013 12:00 PM

Gearing up for the launch of her daytime talk show Bethenny last summer, Bethenny Frankel seemed most excited to finally take a break from her usually hectic juggling act. “Right now there is nothing else to focus on besides doing my show and being with my baby and my husband,” she told PEOPLE last May. For Frankel, whose marriage to Jason Hoppy had been under close scrutiny ever since their rocky second year played out last spring on their Bravo reality show Bethenny Ever After, spending a little extra quality time with the hubby was a welcome option. “We both realized this is marriage. We’re a commitment, and I’m in it to win it,” Frankel said. “Eventually we’ll look back and be like, ‘Remember that year? That was a crappy year!’ ”

But by last month, what seemed to be mere bumps in their relationship had turned into mountains. On Dec. 23 Frankel, 42, announced that she and Hoppy, 41, were separating after nearly three years of marriage. “This is an immensely painful and heartbreaking time for us,” the reality star said in a statement, which came after weeks of renewed speculation over their union. “This was an extremely difficult decision that as a woman and a mother I have to accept as the best choice for our family.” While a source says a reconciliation is out of the question, both Frankel and Hoppy plan to keep things amicable for their daughter Bryn, 2. In the meantime “Bethenny is devastated,” says a friend. As for Hoppy, who is still wearing his wedding ring, “the split has been tough. You go into a marriage thinking it’s going to be forever. When you realize it’s not, it’s really hard-especially when a child is involved.”

For the pair, whose whirlwind courtship, surprise pregnancy and shotgun wedding were documented on-camera for Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City, Bethenny Getting Married? and Bethenny Ever After, it’s a sad end to what had appeared to be a storybook romance. “There was no one turning point that caused this,” says the friend. Though the couple had argued over the years, “they tried to make it work, but it just got too hard to be husband and wife.”

Yet for a few years, it had seemed that the reality star-whose hardscrabble upbringing, acerbic one-liners and romantic woes made her a fan favorite on Housewives-had gotten her happy ending. Long estranged from her mother and late father, Frankel-who had been married once and had two broken engagements-met Hoppy in 2008. The pair wed in 2010 before welcoming their daughter Bryn that same year. As Frankel worked hard developing her now-successful Skinnygirl brand, she attributed her success to Hoppy’s support. “He’s my anchor,” she told PEOPLE in 2010. “He taught me that being taken care of was emotional and not financial.”

While friends say the reality-TV cameras didn’t play a role in their split, Frankel herself admitted that her increasingly intense lifestyle placed a strain on her marriage. In 2011 she sold her Skinnygirl cocktail empire for a reported $120 million while continuing to oversee new lines of shapewear and beauty products and a series of books and DVDs (she also helped her website’s former food blogger lose 66 lbs., see page 102). Last summer she launched her own daytime talk show which, after a successful six-week trial run in six cities, will be nationally syndicated this fall. “The stress of my business may exacerbate our issues,” she told PEOPLE last May. Her level of dedication to her work may have also led to problems. “With Bethenny it was her way or the highway,” says a source. “If you are a person who surrounds yourself with people telling you, ‘You are right; we will bend over backwards to make things happen for you,’ you will have a tough time in marriage. Marriage doesn’t work that way.”

All the while, Hoppy continued his own business ventures, helping out on an unofficial basis with Skinnygirl, despite Frankel’s offer of a full-time gig. (“I want to work with you, not for you,” Hoppy told his wife on Ever After.) “He did well but wasn’t a high roller by any means. Bethenny thought she’d be the breadwinner and he’d be a stay-at-home dad,” says a longtime friend of the couple’s. “That didn’t fly.”

As the pair began arguing more and more, they were dealt a devastating blow last winter, when Frankel suffered a miscarriage during her second pregnancy. “I hit rock bottom when I heard it would have been a girl,” she told PEOPLE in July. “Bryn would have had a sister. I felt like this was meant to be, like it was my last chance to have another baby.”

Still reeling from the loss, Frankel pulled herself together to launch her talk show. When the family relocated to L.A. briefly last summer for taping, “it was stressful for him because he’s a fish out of water,” Frankel said of her East Coast born-and-raised husband. The idea of relocating to L.A. when the show returned in 2013 was an ongoing source of conflict. “It would have been devastating to his family,” says the mutual friend. “And Jason didn’t want his daughter raised in L.A.” So once the show’s six-week run wrapped, “she took six months off to be with her family, be a mom and a wife and quietly live their life.”

Sadly, that attempt at healing their marriage didn’t work. Now Frankel and Hoppy are figuring out how to move on. They still live together in their Tribeca loft, a friend tells PEOPLE. And a source says that Frankel successfully “fought tooth and nail” to move Bethenny’s production to New York City next fall. (A rep for Telepictures Productions, which produces Bethenny, says the show will “likely” move to New York.) “Bethenny would have loved to do the show in L.A., but she will not do that to her family,” says a source. “No matter what, she wants to keep her family together.”

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