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Roommate Issues

Maintaining a healthy relationship with your roommate is an ongoing challenge requiring both patience and respect. You and your roommate were most likely thrown together by "potluck" or perhaps you know each other very well (maybe too well). Whether you are the best of friends or if you would have never chosen each other as friends, you now must learn to get along as roommates.

Having a roommate can have many benefits-- a new friend or someone to hang out with. A roommate can also present many challenges including conflicts over:

    • Neatness. A neat freak vs. the organizationally challenged.
    • Noise. Blasting your stereo at 2 am on a Monday is not likely to go over well.
    • Company. Especially overnight guests of the same or opposite sex.
    • Study arrangements. You can study with the TV on and stereo blaring, but your roommate must have total silence.
    • Sharing possessions. Borrowing without asking, returning damaged, or not returning.
    • Money matters. Taking your roommate’s laundry quarters. She has so much change; she will never notice.
    • Messages. Actually getting them.
    • Value conflicts. Things like drugs and alcohol or smoking.
    • Social type. Homebody vs. party goer.
    • Schedule. First class at 8am or “what class?”

Let’s see how much you know about handling roommate conflicts. Imagine this scenario…

Your roommate borrowed your favorite shirt without asking and always leaves (dirty clothes, dirty dishes, books, etc.) lying around. How should you let him or her know that you are annoyed with his or her behavior?

    • Don’t speak to him or her for a week. He will figure out why your are mad eventually.
    • Be direct and honest. Mention the situation and ask him to get your permission before borrowing things and also to clean up after himself.
    • An eye for an eye. Borrow some of his clothes and leave all of your stuff lying around.
    • Talk behind his back to mutual friends, then maybe they will tell him why you are mad.

Answer: Be direct and honest. This goes for all conflicts with your roommate. Tell your roommate how you feel up front with a confident voice. Use “I” messages rather than the accusatory “you” messages. For example instead of saying “you make me mad when you borrow my things without asking,” say “ when you borrow my things without asking, I feel angry and upset.” Both of you are adults, so be reasonable and respect one another’s points of view.

A written contract would be a good idea to spell out ground rules for living arrangements. Rules on issues such as housecleaning duties, sharing items, alcohol/drugs, smoking, and overnight guests should all be written out and agreed upon by both roommates.

When discussing any issue with your roommate, be assertive. Being passive, suppressing your point of view, will only make you frustrated and cause you to resent your roommate. Eventually a small thing like borrowing a shirt will blow up into a huge argument. On the other hand, being aggressive, fighting for your rights while stepping on someone else’s rights might solve the problem initially, but your roommate will end up harboring hard feelings and resenting you. Remember to be assertive in communication and to speak in a calm, friendly, and reasonable manner.

Living in close quarters with another person (even a person that you know and like) can be a sure-fire cause for conflict. The two of you are both under stress and neither of you have much personal space. These conditions can cause you to become irritated with each other very easily.

Here are some tips for getting along with your roommate:

    • Be assertive when your basic right and needs are an issue.
    • Do not let little annoyances or “quirks” bother you. Especially things that your roommate cannot change. (Ex. An accent.)
    • If your roommate starts to get on your nerves, leave for a while to blow off some steam. When you return, you can confront her or perhaps you will not even remember what was bothering you in the first place. A potential fight is avoided.
    • Remember that you have a right to be treated with respect.
    • Your roommate also has a right to be treated with respect.
    • Make a contract with your roommate to spell out rules for housecleaning, smoking, overnight guests, borrowing items, and quiet hours.
    • Be tolerant of each other.
    • Compromise. All good relationships are based on equal amounts of give and take.
    • Learn from each other. Be open-minded to your roommate’s point-of-view and listen to his or her side.

If conflicts with your roommate become too intense, you may need to involve a third party such as an RA to help both of you resolve the conflict. You can also use the free mediation service on campus by calling the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at 765-285-1622. If these options do not work for you, check with your hall director about other options that may be available.

These guidelines should give you some assistance to avoid and overcome any roommate conflicts that you may have so that you are able to move onto bigger and better things about college life. Good luck!