From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Sorry, I'm a big cry-baby," Taylor Armstrong apologizes as she wipes away her tears for the fourth time. Maybe so, but the oft-weepy Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star, clutching a box of Kleenex over lunch in Los Angeles, has good reason for her emotional outburst. On July 15 Armstrong, 40, filed for divorce, and she still feels raw. Her unhappy union to venture capitalist Russell Armstrong, 47, whom she wed in 2005 (they have a daughter, Kennedy, 5), was thrust into the spotlight during the first season of the hit Bravo reality show. But their on-air spats only scratched the surface of a darker reality, one that she had long kept hidden. Now, claiming she suffered verbal and physical abuse during her marriage, Taylor confesses that despite her glamorous televised facade, "I was walking on eggshells."

Not anymore. It took six months of couples counseling earlier this year, as well as seeing her happily married costars interact with their husbands during the filming of Beverly Hills' upcoming second season (see box), for Taylor to realize she needed to end her marriage. "I'm mad at myself for tolerating things I shouldn't have tolerated from the first moment," she says, explaining that Russell had an explosive temper and fits of jealousy, which led to arguments in which he'd call her names ("He used the word 'a--hole' a lot") and escalated to physical violence that included grabbing her, throwing objects, shoving her and pulling her hair. Russell denies the 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."

Allowing abuse in her own life was especially tragic for Taylor, who says she witnessed domestic violence in her home as a child. "I knew I had to break the cycle for my daughter's sake," says Taylor, who in 2004, in an attempt to "let go of my childhood and that little girl who had seen too much," changed her birth name to Taylor Ford-combining her stepfather's last name, Taylor, and the last name of her idol, designer Tom Ford. "I got a lot of flak for that," she acknowledges of the name switch (which led some Internet reports to call her a "grifter"). Since 2004 she's volunteered at 1736 Family Crisis Center, an L.A. shelter for victims of domestic violence. "Allowing this to happen in my own relationship," she says, "was something I felt very ashamed of."

As troubled as her marriage was, Taylor hopes she and Russell can remain cordial and raise their daughter together. "The other day Kennedy asked me, 'Where are Daddy's ties?' " says Taylor, who has plans to buy the house the family has been renting-Russell moved out "amicably" on June 26-for herself and her little girl. "To her, that's such a symbol of fatherhood. It made me feel sad that we failed to keep our family together."

Instead, Taylor is now a single mom-and unsure of what's next. "I'm scared about the future. I can't even think about dating," she says. "First, I need to learn to love myself enough so I don't allow this to happen again."