"Like any couple we had our share of issues," Christina El Moussa tells PEOPLE

Flip or Flop’s Christina El Moussa opens up about her very public divorce and why she’s “genuinely happy” for the first time in years. Subscribe now for the exclusive interview — only in PEOPLE!

Tarek and Christina El Moussa‘s marriage may have appeared picture-perfect to fans of the couple’s hit HGTV show, but a lot of behind-the-scenes stress led the house-flipping duo to drift apart.

“Like any couple we had our share of issues,” Christina tells PEOPLE tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story. “But we went through a lot in a short amount of time.”

The California natives were already adapting to newfound fame after landing their gig on Flip or Flop and struggling to become pregnant with a second child when Tarek was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2013.

“I had never even known anyone with cancer, so it was a very scary time,” says Christina.

The couple decided to bank Tarek’s sperm and try in vitro fertilization when doctors recommended radiation for the cancer treatment, but Christina suffered a miscarriage before finally becoming pregnant with their son, Brayden, who was born in 2015.

They tried to keep up with their busy schedule, so Christina was back to work four weeks after having her baby. Looking back, however, she says she needed more time off.

“It was too soon for me,” she explains. “I was overwhelmed. Tension between me and Tarek was high.”

Credit: Jana Cruder

Although Christina and Tarek joked about Tarek’s unwillingness to change a diaper during a 2015 interview and photo shoot for PEOPLE, those issues were no laughing matter at home.

“We weren’t able to properly communicate anymore,” Christina says. “It got to the point where we weren’t even driving to set together.”

  • For more from Christina El Moussa on how she’s coping with divorce in the spotlight, co-parenting and continuing to work with her ex, Tarek, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

The reality couple — who share daughter Taylor, 6, and son Braydon, 18 months — officially separated in May 2016 and continue to film their hit show.

“Taylor asked if we could get back together,” Christina shares. “We had to explain that sometimes couples get divorced but that she and Brayden are our No. 1 priority. We’ll always be a family.”