"I felt like I needed time to like accept him and to really see if this was real," Brie Bella says of twin sister Nikki Bella's fiancé Artem Chigvintsev

By Christina Dugan
January 31, 2020 09:00 AM
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Throughout the course of Nikki Bella and ex John Cena‘s six-year relationship, Brie Bella developed a bond with the 42-year-old actor — and took it hard when the duo decided to call it quits in July 2018.

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the Total Bellas star, 36, gets candid about her friendship with Cena, why she was hesitant to get close with twin sister Nikki’s new fiancé Artem Chigvintsev, and how she eventually opened up to him.

“John and I were just really close and Nicole and John were together forever,” says Brie. “He was like a brother to me and I think it was like us three a lot together. And he helped me out with stuff in business and everything. And with my husband as well. It was hard to get over at first,” she admits. “I’m one of those, like, let me do it on my time. I don’t like when I feel rushed and I don’t want to feel rushed.”

“And then, to me, Artem kind of came into the picture quickly,” she adds. “I don’t think I was over it. And so it kind of made me be like just cold shoulder to him, which is awful. But I felt like I needed time to accept him and to really see if this was real. And also having a daughter, who was obsessed with John but also Nicole, I’m like, I’m not about to introduce her to another guy. Until I realized this is serious and all that, then I’ll give it the time of day. Poor Artem.”

Nikki and Brie Bella
Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Splash News Online

Nikki, 36, adds of Chigvintsev’s reaction, “He was so strong about it and accepting and understood.”

“I don’t think anyone else but him would have ever been so understanding and I think that’s what would make me fall in love with him more because he was just understanding of everything,” says Nikki. “Everything I was going through … he was just there for us. And I loved that. It was crazy because then Birdie (Brie’s 2-year-old daughter with husband Daniel Bryan) just fell in love with him.”

  • For more from Nikki and Brie Bella, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
John Cena and Nikki Bella
Kevin Mazur/Fox/Getty

While it “took time” to work past those nerves of starting a new relationship, Nikki says she’s grateful she did.

“I feel like when you have a love like [John], you never fully move on because that person touches your life so much,” she says. “My life coach said it so perfectly. Sometimes these people that are in your life, they’re almost like mothers and you have that attachment because they care for you or they take care of you so much. So when that’s gone, you kind of romanticize and you get these feelings that come up.”

“I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” she says of starting her new relationship with Chigvintsev. “I also wanted time to like feel okay. I didn’t want to hurt Artem. I didn’t want to hurt John. It took me a while, like, Brie was there for me a lot. And it just took me a while to commit to Artem because I just didn’t know, but I was falling in love with him so fast. Like how am I falling for this guy? We’re so opposite. I never would have thought I would have been with a Russian ballroom dancer.”

“But it took me a long time,” she shares. “Honestly, a lot of therapy, a lot of meditation, a lot of journaling, and you still have to go through it. I was about to marry the man. It’s never easy.”

Nikki Bella and Artem Chigvintsev
Matt Winkelmeyer/KCASports2019/Getty Images for Nickelodeon

Nearly two months after getting engaged, Nikki and Chigvintsev are preparing to start their own little family.

On Wednesday, Nikki and Brie exclusively revealed to PEOPLE that they’re (both!) pregnant — and due only a week and a half apart!

Nikki and Brie Bella
James White

“Even though I feel really sick, like, I can’t believe I’m going to be a mom soon,” says Nikki. “I’m going to have this person to take care of for the rest of their life and help them do the right things and just show them the way of the world. That’s amazing!”

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life,” she adds.

Total Bellas returns this spring on E!