Co-construction of chronic illness narratives by older stroke survivors and their spouses


Address for correspondence: Eloise Radcliffe, Department of Primary Care and Public Health Sciences, King’s College London, Guy’s Campus, Capital House, 42 Weston Street, London SE1 3QD


Illness narratives have mainly focused on individual patients’ accounts, and particularly those of people experiencing the onset of chronic illness in mid-life. However, a growing number of older people are spending their later life with their partner, with both experiencing complex morbidities. We examine the shared creation of meanings among older stroke survivors and their spouses and the implications for individual and couple identity. Joint biographical narrative interviews were held with 13 stroke survivors aged 75–85 and their spouses. The analysis examined both narrative content and narrative style. Three main types of co-presentation of identity were identified. The ‘united couple’ described couples who pulled together and emphasised their accommodation of the stroke and normality as a couple, despite often considerable disability, and was strongly underpinned by collaborative interaction in interviews. Caring relationships were distinguished as ‘positive’, involving self-reliant couples who took pride in how they managed and ‘frustrated’ in couples who emphasised the difficulties of caring and hardships experienced and were characterised by a conflictual style of narrative. We argue that joint interviews provide new forms of data that extend notions of how illness is lived and demonstrates how the marital relationship can mediate the experience of chronic illness and disability and its impact on identity.