March 07, 2018 08:00 AM

Amidst all of the Bachelor backlash following the bombshell that Arie Luyendyk Jr. proposed to Becca Kufrin, only to dump her for runner-up Lauren Burnham there is at least one person who wholeheartedly defends him.

“I totally respect his decision to follow his heart,” says Burnham, who reconciled with Luyendyk Jr. just weeks after he proposed to Kufrin, in this week’s PEOPLE cover story. “I don’t blame him for it, and I think it’s made us stronger in the end.”

Watch the full episode of PEOPLE Cover Story: The Bachelor’s Arie Luyendyk — ‘It Was All Worth It’, streaming now on PeopleTV. Go to People.com/peopletv, or download the app on your favorite streaming device.

Arie and Lauren
Jana Cruder

Still, Burnham admits that she was initially skeptical when Luyendyk Jr., 36, first reached out to her — while he was still engaged.

  • For more on Arie and Lauren, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

“He texted me on New Year’s Eve — ‘I think this is maybe crossing the line, but I’d like to talk,’ ” she reveals.

When he made his feelings clear, “I did have some reservations,” she says. “I was just afraid he would change his mind again.”

Arie and Becca
ABC

But after they spoke at length, Burnham’s perspective shifted: “I was just like, ‘We need to do it, you need to take the risk if this means a lot to you and you need to follow your heart. If not, then we don’t need to talk anymore.’ ”

RELATED VIDEO: Arie Luyendyk Jr. Gets Engaged to Lauren Burnham After Split from Becca Kufrin

Ultimately, “It was worth risking getting hurt again to see where it could go,” says Burnham, 26. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about it, and I know he won’t change his mind again.”

“It makes things easier for me knowing that he was able to be with Becca outside of this experience and he still knew that wasn’t what he wanted,” she adds. “It gives me confidence in our relationship knowing that he truly wants to be with me and he took this huge risk to make it happen.”

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