Despite the imposed distance between them, the Real Housewives of New Jersey stars are closer than ever

Updated October 14, 2015 01:05 PM
Credit: Dave Kotinsky/Getty

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. And so it goes for reality stars Teresa and Joe Giudice.

A source tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue that the Real Housewives of New Jersey stars’ marriage is in full bloom despite Teresa being behind bars.

“She’s been missing him so much,” the source tells PEOPLE of Teresa, who’s currently serving a 15-month sentence at the federal institution in Danbury, Connecticut, adding, “He misses her a lot, too.”

The couple’s mutual longing has been on full display on their new Bravo special Teresa Checks In. In one scene, Teresa, calling from prison, jokes with Joe about phone sex. Joe soon got emotional, saying, “I hope that we grow old together.”

RELATED VIDEO: Joe Giudice Reveals Post-Prison Plans with Wife Teresa: ‘We’ll Be Spending a lot of Time in the Bedroom’

It’s a stark change from the squabbling pair viewers had come to know on Housewives. There has even been speculation that Joe was unfaithful.

But now, it appears he is only focused on Teresa and parenting his four young girls – Gia, 14, Gabriella, 10, Milania, 9, and Audriana, 6 – while she’s away. “He’s doing a great job taking care of the kids,” says the source. “Joe is really stepping up as a dad. Teresa feels good that she can rely on him to take care of her.”

And she’s counting down the days until they reunite.

“She’s so excited to see her husband again,” says the source of Teresa, who will be released on Dec. 23, just a few months before Joe begins his own 43-month sentence.

“They’ll definitely spend Christmas together. He goes in in March, so they’ll have a couple of months together, which is great.”

For more from Teresa Giudice’s life behind bars, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday