Teresa Giudice and Danielle Staub are two of the fiercest rivals in Real Housewives of New Jersey history, their feud giving the hit Bravo series its most iconic moment involving Giudice flipping a table at Staub and calling her a “prostitution whore” in the season 1 finale.
But when the show returns for its eighth season Wednesday — Staub’s first time back on the show since leaving in season 2 — fans will see the two New Jersey Housewives “thick as thieves” … and friends.
“Teresa and I are on a new path,” Staub, 55, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “We’ve both apologized and owned up to things we’ve done in the past.
Giudice agreed. “Danielle and I are friends now,” the 45-year-old author wrote in her new book Standing Strong. “We have a lot more in common than I thought. That’s what I’m saying about how things evolve. You never know who will come in and out of your life at different stages or for different reasons. I forgave her, she forgave me. … All is good with Danielle and me, which is how it should be. I’m truly thrilled she’s on the show.”
Even though they’re pals — and practicing yoga together now and then — their reunion may feel out of left field to some, especially since Giudice practically chased Staub off the stage during the season 2 reunion. But a lot has changed for both women in their years apart. And in recent seasons, it seemed as though Giudice was sending Staub messages that she was ready for a resolution.
“I want her to come back,” Giudice boldly said on the season 7 reunion, explaining later on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, “I feel like she never tried to hurt me in any way maliciously, so I just wanted her to know that.’
For more on Danielle Staub’s RHONJ return, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE — on newsstands Friday.
Giudice’s comments really helped Staub move forward.
“When I saw her say that on the reunion, I was so moved,” Staub confesses. “We talked, and she apologized and said, ‘I want us to be back,’ and it meant a lot to me that she was so strong about me being by her side again. That was beginning of me feeling comfortable enough to step back into the show.”
“With me, if you genuinely come to me with an, ‘I’m sorry,’ I will open my arms and I’ll embrace you,” Staub adds. “That’s all it takes. I will go from there. And I believe her. I so believe her.”
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That doesn’t mean that there weren’t some things the two had to work out.
“We’ve spent some time going through our blow by blows,” Staub says. “Neither of us are making excuses — but she tells me what was going through her mind then, where she’s at now and to please forgive her, and I do the same. We’re helping each other understand one another and start over.”
“Most of it is our misconceptions,” Staub continues. “I will own up to anything that I’ve done, but I often remind her, ‘Did I really say that, or is that something somebody else said that I said?’ ”
Those misconceptions had a damaging effect on Staub. After being dragged through the mud by Giudice and their castmates during the first two seasons of the show, Staub left and spent the past seven years trying to fix her bad reputation .
“It was horrible,” Staub recalls. “I didn’t have an ally on the show defending me, and I felt like I was constantly being attacked. So I lashed out in response and said things and did things I shouldn’t have, which only made things worse. It was wrong of me.”
“Once that perception is there and it’s publicly displayed and announced and it’s repeated over and over again, it’s very hard and it’s very lonely,” she continued. “And it would have been lonely had they just let me be when I left the show, but they all kept talking about me still. I wasn’t even filming the show to try to defend myself or get people to see a different side of me. I got stuck in that place of people judging me poorly according to what they said.”
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It took years for Staub to beat down the negative perceptions people had of her, and she recognizes that some viewers may hold on to them. And now returning as a “Friend of the Housewives,” Staub is able to laugh off some of her past drama — like her 19 previous engagements (she’s currently engaged for the 20th time).
“It’s about time people laugh at some of the s— I’ve gone through in my life,” she says. “Some of this s— is kind of funny. Painful, yet funny. The part that was ugly made me actually a survivor. And if I can laugh at it, I think everyone else should be able to. Stop taking life so seriously!”
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As for this season of RHONJ, Staub said fans can expect a “united front” among the cast — which includes Melissa Gorga, Dolores Catania, Siggy Flicker, and newcomer Margaret Josephs.
“We fight, so there’s drama, but the big difference is none of us get too detrimental to each other, and at the end of the day, we get to laugh about the drama,” she says. “We were all know what we’re doing. We’re not going to make it so unbearable that one of us would not want to come back.”
Those disagreements include ones between Staub and Giudice, too. They just doesn’t turn into World World III this time.
“When Teresa and I speak to each other about what we might not agree on, we’re very respectful of each other,” Staub says. “Whereas that wasn’t always the case. There’s no back-talking.”
“I can’t wait for you guys to see us together,” Staub teases.
The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Wednesday (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.