updated 07/28/2011 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 07/28/2011 AT 8:15 AM ET
Taylor Armstrong’s troubled marriage was thrown into the spotlight last year on Bravo’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But behind the frequent on-air spats lurked a darker reality.
In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Taylor, who filed for divorce from Russell Armstrong on July 15, reveals she was verbally and physically abused during their nearly six-year marriage.
“I felt like I was dying inside,” she says. “Now, there’s some sense of peace.”
Taylor, 40, says the couple often had explosive arguments in which Russell would curse and call her names. At times, the arguments escalated into physical violence, which included grabbing her, throwing objects, shoving her and pulling her hair.
Russell, 47, denies there was any hair pulling but says, “Did I push her? Yes, maybe things happened in the heat of the moment, but it was during a time in our lives that was not characteristic of who we were. This show has literally pushed us to the limit.”
Still, filing for divorce was a difficult decision for Taylor. “When I knew the filing had gone through, I just started to cry,” she says. “We tried hard to fix our marriage, but it wasn’t healthy.”
Her focus is now on the couple’s daughter Kennedy, 5.
“I hope we can co-parent as healthy as possible,” she says, adding she’d like joint custody. “He’s an amazing dad, and I want her to still think her dad is the greatest guy on the planet.”
But Armstrong says it’s going to be difficult.
“I think I hurt for my daughter more than I do for myself,” she says. “It feels like a big loss that she’s not going to grow up with both of her parents in the same house.”
The new season of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills premieres on Sept. 5.