04/09/2009 AT 12:00 AM EDT
Last month, Real Housewives of New York City
star Countess LuAnn de Lesseps
received a shocking email from her globe-trotting husband: “It said that he had met someone,” she recalls, “and they were serious.”
In an exclusive interview in the new issue of PEOPLE, de Lesseps, 43, admits that she and her husband had been separated
for nearly three months when she received the note – but that didn’t make the message any easier to swallow. “I was devastated,” she says. “I knew that we were kind of separating, but I was hoping that things were going to work out.”
Married for 16 years to Count Alexandre de Lesseps, 59, LuAnn says she always assumed she would be “married forever.” When that didn’t happen, she held out hope that the news would remain private. But just last week, The New York Post
revealed to the world that her husband was now openly involved with an Ethiopian woman in Geneva.
Beyond the public embarrassment, she says, having to break the news to the couple’s two children, Noel, 12, and Victoria, 14, has “probably been the hardest part.”
She’s also finding it difficult to get up every day and promote her new book, Class with the Countess
, an autobiographical etiquette guide that hits bookstores April 16. “When I wrote the book I felt very secure,” says de Lesseps. “And that’s totally changed.”
The book, which is dedicated to her husband, contains a chapter titled “How to Get a Man to Stay in Love.” So why didn’t her own tips work?
“You can try all you want,” de Lesseps responds, “but if you’re not getting reciprocation from the other person, it’s not your fault.” --Mark DagostinoTo read more from The Countess, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.