Tamerlan Tsarnaev Widow Katherine – Could She Really Not Have Known?

Bombing-WidowTamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are names that are forever connected to the 3 words when placed together are painful, traumatic, and will always be remembered: Boston Marathon Bombing. FOX News Boston requested my expertise as a Psychotherapist/Marriage Therapist to weigh in during their Special Report which aired on the evening news on 5/13/14, as to whether it is possible for a wife to not know what is going on with one’s husband. Is it possible that Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow Katherine had no knowledge of what was going on?  Below you will find my blog addressing the matter.

Without ever having met Katherine, I cannot truly know what she did or did not know. What I can speak on is the very question that was asked to me by FOX25 News anchor Ted Daniel: “Is it possible that Katherine did not know?” The answer is that it is indeed quite possible for a wife to not know what is going on with her husband. In marriage, it is common for a working woman and a parent to become quite consumed with the day to day responsibilities in conjunction with a genuine trust in one’s spouse. As many among us do not go into one’s marriage thinking our spouse plans on committing harmful acts. Do know that indeed it is just as possible that a wife does subconsciously know what is going on but does not want to consciously admit to herself the reality. For the reality would be too painful to confront. Denial is a powerful mental state. Then of course, by contrast, there are those who do indeed know what is going on with their spouse. As to which scenario describes Katherine, to that we do not know without hearing from her directly. From a psychotherapeutic lens, I will state that yes indeed, it is possible that in this type of scenario the wife did not know, just as it is possible that she did. 

Do we all really know what our spouse is up to? To take it to the far end, do know that there are those living a secret life among us, a double life. Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s widow is not the first nor will she be the last case where many find themselves wondering if it is possible that a wife cannot know __________ about one’s husband. Provided below are just but a few examples in the news through the years that the question has been asked: Is it possible that the wife did not know?

  • Can you be married to a man and not know that your spouse is molesting children (e.g., Sandusky)?
  • Can you be married to a man and not know he is having an affair (e.g., John Edwards)?
  • Can you be married and not know your spouse has fathered another child from an affair he had while married to you (e.g., Schwarzenegger – Shriver)?
  • Can you be married and not know your spouse is stealing money (e.g., Bernie Madoff)?
  • Can you be married to a man and not know he is a murderer? (Remember the case of The Craig’s List Killer? Engaged- almost married).

As a Psychotherapist/Marriage Therapist for 20+ years, I will share with you that through the years women come in for counseling reporting the trauma they are experiencing in their discovery that they are now in the group of those who have been married to someone living a double life. Drug addiction, gambling addiction, infidelity – these are a few examples far too many women are faced with discovering that they did not know the reality of the man they were sharing a bed with, and have children with. There are men who live a double life, there are women who live a double life – does the spouse really not know? It is possible not impossible, for some. For others, it is impossible.

There are the secrets we keep from ourselves, there are the secrets we keep to ourselves, and then there are the secrets that we are oblivious to. Many wonder, which is the reality in Katherine’s case.

As it is not my intent to judge nor evaluate what Katherine herself did or did not know, rather during my interview on air, and in this blog, it is my intent to share possible scenarios generally speaking, in my experience working with couples. Provided below are the 3 most common scenarios. Which 1 of these 3 is Katherine’s scenario? Or does she fit into a 4th category? We the public to date do not know, and may or may not someday know.

  1. The spouse enables the condition instead of seeking out help by keeping the secret and/or by keeping their eyes wide shut. The spouse knows but doesn’t want to know. Denial. Why? Answers include, depending on the case/person: a) fear, b) marital philosophy of taking the secret to the grave no matter who it hurts/loyalty till the end, c) rationalization (e.g., seemingly the same beliefs from the spouse’s perspective – rationalizing that their mate is so passionate that he took their philosophies too far), d) compartmentalization, e) disbelief/denial, f) grief reaction, and/or g) blinders. These are all possible contributors as to why a spouse remains loyal and may know subconsciously, yet may not want to know consciously.
  2. The type of person who would commit such an act of devastation, of horror – planning, plotting, and preparing, often are skilled in/an expert in – deception, manipulation, and secrecy. Quite common that this person is liked by many, is charming.
  3. Personal-relational couple dynamic scenarios: a) The spouse is consumed with what is going on in their life (work, children), combined with a complete trust in their spouse/love for their spouse that they are oblivious to the extreme reality of what is going on. b) Some couples are like 2 ships that cross in the night, living independent lives although together and under the same roof. In addition, in some marriages when the couple is disconnected from one another neither knows what the other half is up to.


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