with Liz McNeil
02/14/2011 at 01:00 AM EST
When Mark Sanford was asked last spring whether the illicit romance that derailed his career and family would endure, he said, "Time will tell." That time has come.
Days after his South Carolina governorship ended Jan. 12, Sanford, 50, decamped to Uruguay. There he was snapped for the first time with Maria Belen Chapur, 43, the Argentinian businesswoman he described as his "soulmate" after he was caught in June '09 sneaking out on his official duties to visit her. Former aide Richard Grenell says Sanford is, belatedly, "trying to live in a way he thinks is open and honest." His now ex-wife told ABC last fall that she's almost rooting for the romance "because it would...seem like maybe there was a reason to break the whole family up." Jenny Sanford, 48, tells PEOPLE she's happy as a single mom to four boys: "I thoroughly enjoy private life...and four of the most special men a woman could ever have in her life."