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Book review – The Chronic Pain Couple

The Chronic Pain Couple, by Karra Eloff.
Review by Tim Atkinson

A portrait photo of Tim Atkinson.

Tim Atkinson is an author, freelance writer and Vice-Chairman of the British Pain Society Patient Voice Committee.


“No man is an island” wrote John Donne. To which we might add man, woman, and child. But for the chronic pain-sufferer, that fact can be as much a blessing and as a curse. We need people, but we don’t want to be needy. We’re all, to some extent, hide-the-pain-Harolds, taking Philip Larkin’s maxim – “Other people’s illnesses aren’t interesting: I mention mine only to excuse the probable dullness of what I shall write” – too much to heart. Because illness, and chronic pain in particular, can inevitably lead to strain in a relationship. Which is precisely where The Chronic Pain Couple by Karra Eloff (Exsile, July 2022) comes in. Drawing both on the latest research as well as her own experience (Eloff suffers from spondyloarthritis) Eloff has written a book that promises to put the joy back into relationships “embattled and exhausted” by one partner’s pain.

By taking a series of small, practical steps, she argues, you can turn the dial on a relationship, making big changes that require only minimal energy.

As Karra says herself, chronic pain can impact all areas of the lives of sufferers… and there are loads of resources out there to help them try to manage that. But chronic pain also impacts the relationships of pain sufferers, and there have been precious few resources devoted exclusively to that.

Until now. She knows from experience that pain can steal your day-to-day joy and force you to live for a future when you might start to feel ‘better’. But that day may be a long way off. Meanwhile, there are the daily needs of your relationship to consider. Identifying four key areas in which to apply simple, low-energy changes that can help maintain a positive and healthy relationship, she offers practical advice backed up with evidence and anecdotes that won’t use up too many of your valuable ‘spoons’.

And while all the strategies are simple, she is only too aware that ‘simple is hard when you’re focussed on survival.’ So the book makes it as easy as possible, including all sorts of pieces of the jigsaw (including mental health and sex) as well as a helpful summary – the ‘long and short’ – at the end of each chapter to reinforce what you’ve just read. And the key, when all’s said and done, is what Eloff calls ‘being intentional’. You might not be able to do everything you did before having chronic pain. But ‘pivot and reach’, she says – decide what’s important to you what you can do. And then plan to do it!

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