“I felt like I was drowning,” Christina, 34, says in the latest issue of PEOPLE. “I was doing whatever I could to stay above water and just get through the day.”
In 2016, following an “unfortunate incident” where Tarek, 36, fled their home with a gun onto national-parks property, prompting a helicopter and 11 officers to respond to the scene, the pair separated, leaving the fate of their reality show and million-dollar home in limbo.
In the aftermath, “a lot of people were thinking, ‘What’s going to happen?’ Tarek and I were so tied together on everything: real estate, the show, our children, our house. It was so stressful, and everyone was worried that it was going to explode.”
Despite the drama, there was no explosion and the pair continued working together while co-parenting their daughter, Taylor, 7, and son, Brayden, 2. “Somehow we managed to build something even bigger than we had before,” she says.
With the dust settled and the drama mostly behind them, Christina is moving into the next chapter of her life. “I thought of this year like a rebuild,” she says. “So I’m starting from scratch. I’m moving, I have a new TV show, a new boyfriend—there’s a lot of projects going on. I’m just so happy, and for the first time in a long time, I feel at peace, which is such a good feeling.”
For more on Christina El Moussa, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Monday.