Kathleen Buhle on reclaiming herself after divorce from Hunter Biden: ‘I carried my identity too closely attached to my husband’

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Kathleen Buhle, for more than 20 years, made it her job to keep secrets. As the ex-wife of Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, she tried her best to keep their private lives out of the public eye. But in her new memoir, Buhle opens up about her divorce, battling cancer and finding her voice again.

“For a long time I carried my identity too closely attached to my husband, so in many ways divorce was one of the best things that ever could have happened to me because I was forced to reclaim my identity,” Buhle, 52, tells Yahoo Life.

If We Break: A Memoir of Marriage, Addiction and Healing chronicles Buhle’s journey as a young girl raised on the South Side of Chicago to a college graduate who marries Hunter Biden at the age of 24. Back then, Buhle was introduced to the Biden family and their political lives in D.C. and Delaware, where she found herself struggling to fit into the culture. While the Biden family is always in the background of her story, Buhle's memoir focuses on how she started to lose herself as Hunter’s issues with addiction seeped into their marriage.

If We Break: A Memoir of Marriage, Addiction and Healing by Katheen Buhle
If We Break: A Memoir of Marriage, Addiction and Healing by Kathleen Buhle. (Penguin Random House)

“I tried really hard to keep it about me, and not about what Hunter may have been struggling with, because that was his struggle. But being married to an addict carries its own struggles,” says Buhle.

In If We Break, Kathleen reveals the first time that Hunter admitted to having a problem with alcohol and making the choice to go to rehab. After a period of sobriety, Hunter relapsed, and over the next decade the couple would battle with his addiction through several rehab stints and an escalation to drugs including crack and cocaine.

Buhle spent years forcefully pushing Hunter to get sober, even enlisting his brother Beau to help encourage his sobriety. In the end, she realized that the only person who could truly help Hunter was Hunter.

“For a long time I couldn’t hear that. Because when you love someone you want to help them. It’s a really hard lesson to learn but the only thing you can do is love your addict,” says Buhle.

In 2015, when Hunter's brother Beau Biden died of brain cancer, Buhle lost a brother-in-law and close friend, and saw Hunter’s addiction spiral. When she discovered that Hunter had been engaged in an affair with Beau’s widow Hallie, it was the final straw. She filed for divorce in 2016, and shifted her focus from Hunter’s sobriety and to starting a new life for herself and her three teenage daughters.

Naomi Biden, Kathleen Buhle, Finnegan Biden and Maisy Biden on Nov. 13, 2021.(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)
Naomi Biden, Kathleen Buhle, Finnegan Biden and Maisy Biden in 2021.(Photo: Chuck Kennedy)

“The title of the book, If We Break, came from the way I was parenting my daughters, which came from this mantra that we could not break. I was trying to have this public front that said we’re great. The title comes from my daughter saying to me at one point, ‘It’s okay if we break a little,’” Buhle says. “I hope it helps other women to own choices and realize that life is hard and complicated and we’re not supposed to do it all perfectly.”

Starting over required Kathleen to get to know herself all over again. While dodging calls from the tabloids, Buhle privately dealth with the reality that she hadn’t worked in over 20 years and Hunter had grossly mismanaged their money. She eventually found a full-time job working for the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP) and focused on taking back control of her life.

“I was completely frightened. I was a 49-year-old college educated, relatively smart woman and I didn’t think I could make it on my own. I did have to prove it to myself,” says Buhle. “I sold the house, I sold the car, got rid of all debt, went back to checking my credit card statement every month and just lived a much simpler life.”

As Buhle settled into her new routine, she was hit with another bomb: After years of dealing with recurring stomach pain, doctors found a block in her colon — which wound up being stage 3 colon cancer. Treatments and chemotherapy would prove effective, and today Buhle is cancer-free. She also has a new outlook on life.

“I can’t believe that I was upset about divorce. It just really reprioritized everything for me. I used to take for granted that I would be a little old lady. And now every good scan I get is a good day,” says Buhle.

After navigating divorce and surviving cancer, Buhle is happy with the life she has created for herself. She has started dating, but feels content to be on her own and living authentically.

She also has a lot of look forward to, like her daughter Naomi’s wedding at the White House later this fall. Buhle may have struggled to maintain her own identity in marriage, but she’s raised her daughters to make their own choices, and continues to be inspired by what they teach her.

“I look at Naomi, who is 28: She’s a lawyer, she’s not only supporting herself but enjoying her job," says Buhle. "When she gets married she will have a sense of who she is, and my heart is just bursting with pride."

—Video produced by Becky Horvath

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