To the outside world they seemed to have it all – multimillion-dollar houses, an enviable luxury lifestyle, TV contracts and a gorgeous daughter.
But as the details of Michael and Kyly Clarke's secret marriage split, which they've kept hidden for five months, continue to emerge, sources tell Woman's Day the famous couple's relationship has been struggling for years – even, tragically, as far back as their wedding day because Michael still holds a candle for his ex-fiancee Lara Bingle.
"Michael has always struggled with a fear that his marriage would fail, and it took him a long time to get over that," a source close to the couple tells Woman's Day. "Kyly even admitted that to some of the WAGs, and said it added to her insecurities about how she never felt she was good enough.
"He was the driving force behind the split and divorce."
Tellingly, in 2016, Michael said as much in his autobiography My Story, revealing he struggled after his parents' 25-year marriage came to an end.
"Their break-up affected me to the core," Michael wrote about his parents Les and Debbie. "When I split up with my then fiancee Lara Bingle in 2010, part of the undercurrent in my thinking is that if a couple like Mum and Dad can't make it, what hope have I got?"
Michael and Kyly, who have been married for seven years, secretly split in September last year, with the 38-year-old former cricket player moving into their $7 million Bondi apartment – leaving their $12 million Vaucluse family home for Kyly, also 38, and their four-year-old daughter Kelsey Lee to live in.
WATCH: Michael Clarke responds to rumours he flushed Lara Bingle's $200,000 engagement ring down the toilet. Story continues below...
"Kyly continued wearing her ring and putting on a brave face – even posing for Santa pics last Christmas – hoping they could make it work, [but] Michael checked out a long time ago," the source reveals.
According to friends, the sports star has been leaning on his well-connected and high-profile mates during the split.
"He was advised by good mate Anthony Bell, who has managed Michael's wealth pool for years, while Alan Jones mentored him through the process," says the source.
Michael even called upon Today host Karl Stefanovic, who after going through a similar experience with his ex Cassandra Thorburn offered him comforting words and told him that he was doing the right thing.
Propped up by his support network, the source says, "Michael went to Kyly and put a plan to her of how they would split their $40 million fortune privately – so as to avoid going through the court", to which Kyly agreed and signed on the dotted line.
The tragic ending to their high school sweetheart love story has not only affected Kyly but has finally confirmed what she has believed all along – that Michael had never truly got over his famous ex Lara.
Despite Lara, 32, firmly moving on from Michael – who she was engaged to for two years – and starting a family with Hollywood actor Sam Worthington, the source says, "Kyly was forced to live with the fact that his true love was and always will be Lara."
"Even after Michael and Lara broke up, Lara would still contact him but Kyly remained loyal and continued to turn up to the cricket to cheer him on."
Desperate to compete with his former flame, Kyly's insecurities only worsened through time, with the already waifish WAG becoming obsessed with losing weight and altering her appearance with cosmetic surgery.
"She had her ears pinned back, a breast enlargement, a nose job... all in the hope she could be the woman he wanted her to be. But always in the back of her mind she still wasn't Lara.
"Kyly has said that all she's ever wanted in a partner is someone who admires her, is faithful, is honest and loves every ounce of her being. Sadly, that dream is over – at least for now."
Since the shock announcement of their split, whispers have been getting stronger by the day that Michael may have hooked up with Sydney fashion designer and socialite Pip Edwards at an event last December – after he split with Kyly.
"They were together at the Hublot Loves Summer event in Sydney, and the chemistry was so obvious," a source tells Woman's Day. "He didn't take his eyes off her! She is flirty by nature and he was lapping up the attention."
Adding to Kyly's woes, the source adds Michael's close friendship with his personal assistant Sasha Armstrong was always a bone of contention, especially after images of a shirtless Michael and Sasha lounging on a yacht surfaced in 2018.