If you were shocked when Ashley Darby announced that she and her husband, Michael Darby, decided to separate, you weren't the only one. Many of Ashley's RHOP pals' jaws dropped when she broke the news during The Real Housewives of Potomac reunion.
In fact, many of those close to Ashley and Michael may not have suspected the separation either, since the two still spend time together socially. “It is a very small town, so we have common friends and we go to the same events. The only difference now is we just retreat back to our separate quarters,” Ashley recently told PEOPLE. “It took me this long to talk about it because I wanted to deal with it in private, since it was something that I wasn’t really comfortable with or sure how to explain at first.”
Ashley moved out of the home she shares with Michael and has been living in her own apartment in Arlington, Virginia since February. The couple is also still working closely together on their restaurant, Oz, which RHOP fans saw cause some stress in their relationship this season.
However, Ashley told PEOPLE that it's not so easy for her and Michael to just walk away from their eatery. “We are 50-50 partners,” she said. “We both share in everything that goes on there and that’s not going away, like a child. You can’t just get rid of your child. We’re co-parenting!”
During the reunion, Ashley and Michael explained that there were many reasons why they decided to separate, including problems in their communication, Ashley not feeling "valuable" in the relationship, assisting Ashley's mother financially, and their 29-year age difference. However, they both agreed that they ultimately didn't want to get a divorce and were committed to working on their marriage with the help of counseling.
Ashley told PEOPLE that she's been on a "spiritual journey" during her time apart from Michael, practicing yoga and guided meditation. “I feel like I have almost grown up, in a sense,” she said.
She also said that RHOP pals Gizelle Bryant, Monique Samuels, and Karen Huger have all lent their support to Ashley as she goes through this difficult time. "It’s very hard for me,” Ashley told PEOPLE of being apart from Michael. “I’m not used to this. I’m not used to not being with him and waking up and making him coffee in the morning. It’s been an adjustment. There’s a little bit of a void because this is the person that I thought I was going to share the rest of my life with. For that to be unraveled feels very foreign.”
But Ashley is looking toward the future, whatever it may bring. "This has been an amazing year filled with lessons!!" she recently tweeted. "I can't wait to see what the future holds. Thank You for all the love and support!"
See Monique's take on the RHOP couple, below.