At the same time, she couldn’t imagine living without her new lover Peter Gruman.
So when the two men struck up an extraordinary friendship, she came up with the perfect solution… and moved Peter into the family home in Barking, East London.
Now Maria, 33, Paul, 37, their two children, Laura, 16, and Amy, 12, and Peter, 36, live as one big happy family.
“People might think it’s weird but I love both men and couldn’t choose between them,” says Maria, a housing liaison officer.
“When I left Paul there was a huge hole in my life. But the thought of never seeing Peter again was heartbreaking. So living with both men is the only way.”
Incredibly, the men agreed. Paul, a railway assessor, says: “Peter is a great guy. When Maria first had the affair with him I was just heartbroken. But as I got to know him, I realised we have so much in common. We both adore fishing, and he’s like a surrogate dad to the kids.”
Peter, a construction site manager, adds: “We all get on so well. It doesn’t feel as if I’m sharing Maria. There’s no jealousy …it feels as if we are a team.”
It was last year that they all moved in together after three years of Maria to-ing and fro-ing between her husband and lover.
Peter sleeps on the sofa while Paul has a room upstairs. Maria shares a bedroom with her eldest daughter.
She says: “The three of us never share a bed. Although I have a s*xual relationship with each man, that side is kept very private. If Paul is out, then Peter and I might make love, and vice-versa. But both men turn a blind eye and we never discuss it with one another.”
Maria was 15 when she and Paul met at school. After dating for two years, she unexpectedly became pregnant. Paul proposed seven months into her term and a month later they married. Four years after the birth of Laura, Maria had their second daughter Amy. But in 2006 their marriage hit a rocky patch.
Maria says: “Paul was out of work for six months and it put a strain on our relationship. The stress led to less s*x and we grew apart. Although we carried on with life – cooking, cleaning, looking after the children – we’d lost our intimacy. The relationship was more brother and sister than a couple.”
Around the same time a new manager, Peter, started at Maria’s workplace.
“Someone introduced me to Peter and when we smiled at one another, I could feel the chemistry straight away,” she says. “Until that moment, I’d been happily married for 13 years to my childhood sweetheart and had never thought about being with another man.”
Peter, who was also married at the time, recalls the same instant attraction. “It was like a bolt from the blue… love at first sight,” he says.
Soon the pair were meeting secretly. “We’d meet at the local pub for lunch,” says Maria. “One day he put a hand on my leg and my whole body began trembling with desire. I knew it was wrong but soon we were sleeping together.”
Their affair carried on for a year before Paul stumbled on messages between them on Maria’s phone. She managed to convince him they were just friends. But a few months later her lover left his wife and moved from Luton, Beds, to be closer to Maria in Barking.
“I grew even closer to Peter,” says Maria. “Paul had to go away on business for a few weeks and so Peter took the children shopping, spoiling them rotten with gifts.”
Paul and the children were devastated. He says: “I was just shocked and heartbroken. I couldn’t believe Maria had left me.”
Over the next few months Paul and Maria took turns to have the children. “I felt bad about tearing the family apart,” says Maria. “So after work I’d go and clean and cook for Paul and the kids and then go home to Peter.”
Paul says: “While I was so upset, I decided to try to put the children first. It was going to be much better if we could all be mature adults and be amicable about it. I could see Peter was a decent guy. When the kids went to stay over I knew he was putting himself out to make sure they were happy. I’d go to pick them up and we got chatting.”
Over the next year their relationship became even more amicable. Maria says: “Rather than cook two separate dinners, it was easier to just do one and all sit down together. Paul and Peter got on so well they went on a fishing trip together. We even started going on days out and holidays together.
“It was strange but I noticed I felt at my happiest when we were all together. The children adored having both of them around too.”
Then in November 2012 the tenancy on Peter’s rented flat came to an end. He went to stay with a friend and Maria moved back to the family home. Maria says: “It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but while I missed Peter terribly, it was fantastic to be back as a family.”
When Peter found another flat, Maria decided it was time to sit both men down and be honest with them. “I said I loved them both,” she says. “I said I couldn’t face living without either of them.”
To her delight, both men said they understood.
Peter says: “By now Paul and I had developed a huge respect for each other. We didn’t see one another as rivals for Maria’s affections. We were friends who got on well. At the same time I’d come to care so much for the children. It seemed natural to live together.”
Paul says: “Maria was and still is my soulmate.”
The “family” are now in the process of buying a larger house to accommodate them all.
Maria admits many friends and family find the arrangement difficult to understand.
“Some people are shocked, mostly because they get the wrong idea and think it’s some sort of threesome,” she says. “Most people seem to think I should just remain with Paul, but those who see all of us together think differently.” She adds: “There are huge benefits to living together. For example, as Paul and I leave for work early, Peter is often able to take the children to school.
“Ultimately the children benefit from three adults able to help with school work or give them lifts. Financially too, it makes sense as the bills are split three ways.”
Ironically, Maria is now the one who sometimes gets jealous. “I’m left on my own when the pair of them go on a long fishing trip,” she says.
She’s unsure what the sleeping arrangements will be in their new house. “But we would never have any sort of rota where I sleep with Peter one night and Paul the next. I do know I’m very lucky to have two wonderful men in my life.”