The Ultimate Guide for Dealing with Roommate Conflict
- Alyssa Roat Contributing Writer
- 2020 26 Oct
I always knew I would have a roommate in college. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would continue to live with roommates as a working adult.
But statistically, it isn’t surprising. As of 2017, more than half (about 54%) of adults ages 23-29 live in “doubled-up” households with either roommates or family members (Zillow data analysis of IPUM microdata).
Having a roommate is a blessing. Aside from the financial benefits, it can mean having someone to come home to, someone to help with household chores, someone who is in this with you.
However, living with another person comes with its own share of difficulties. How do we prevent conflicts before they happen, and resolve them when they inevitably arise?
Below, I’ve outlined some preventative strategies, and ideas for when problems occur.
Starting Out on the Right Foot
Maybe you’ve been living with your roommate for a while already. Or maybe you’re looking for a roommate. The following strategies are best before you’ve been living with each other for a while, but they can still be implemented at any stage.
1. Start Out with Prayer
Though not a binding and permanent situation like a marriage, moving in with a roommate or two is a commitment. The other person is depending on you, and you will be spending a lot of time in close proximity with them.
God created us as relational beings, but our broken sin nature can lead to conflict. Before and while living with anyone, we need His help.
Spend time asking God for wisdom, patience, and love. Pray for your roommates, not just as they relate to you, but for their lives and selves as well.
2. Consider Compatibility
Before you move in with someone, consider whether you are compatible.
If you went to college, most of us didn’t have the luxury of choosing, but as an adult, you can consider your options. Just because someone is a friend doesn’t mean you will work well with them as a roommate.
In fact, sometimes friends turned roommates are more problematic, because it’s assumed that conflict won’t occur. Rather than considering just how fun a person is or how much you like them, think about living habits.
Everyone has quirks and flaws, but do they have any that you don’t think you can live with? Do you have any quirks that you know will drive them crazy?
Also consider what you and they are looking for in a living situation—whether that’s length of commitment or desire for pets.
More importantly, is this someone you can rely on to keep up their part of the bargain?
3. Get to Know Each Other
Before you organize your silverware drawer, spend some time getting to know each other.
By this, I don’t mean asking about each other’s favorite movies or best childhood memories. Spend some time learning about each other’s living habits.
Are you a morning person, or a night owl? Introvert or extrovert? Do you need to use the kitchen for your love of creating elaborate dishes, or are you more likely to eat out most nights?
You may need to arrange things differently depending on schedules and preferences.
4. Set Boundaries and Expectations
Boundaries are going to look very different living with different people.
My college roommate and I were both extroverts. We always had multiple friends crammed into the tiny dorm room, chatting, eating, doing homework, even napping. Our door was always open, and people hung out in there even when we weren’t home.
When I later moved to an apartment, the four of us agreed that we would let each other know ahead of time when we were having people over—and large groups of people were approved with one another days in advance.
Guests are one area where boundaries have to be established. Others include food, communal space, borrowing things, and noise levels.
Beyond boundaries, what are the expectations? Who cleans what? How often?
What about relational expectations? My current roommate and I like to have “family dinner” together at our kitchen table and discuss our day. When I lived in the apartment of four, we took care of our own food and ate independently according to our schedules.
Deciding on boundaries and expectations from the beginning can prevent misunderstandings later. It can also provide a way to point back to a previous agreement if one roommate is doing something that causes the other consternation.
There are roommate agreements online. Some people find writing these things down to be helpful. Many are aimed more toward college students in dorms, but they can work for house or apartment living situations as well.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Rilueda
Strategies for Living Together
Once you’re living with someone, certain actions can help to build a better relationship.
1. Respect Your Roommate
Respect in this case means remembering the worth of the person you’re living with as a human being created in the image of God.
Respect means listening to their concerns and treating them with dignity, considering their needs and heart as well as your own.
When interacting with your roommate, remember what Jesus said in Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Consider how you would feel in a situation.
2. Communicate Clearly and Often
Check in regularly. Ask questions and/or permission. (Do you mind if I do/use this?) Ask how they’re feeling about the situation and if there’s anything they want to discuss or anything you’re doing that bothers them.
Listen first, then bring up any concerns you might have.
If you feel it will help, you can even schedule weekly check-ins in which each of you can bring forward your concerns.
3. Pick Your Battles
Every person will inevitably have quirks that bother you. However, addressing every single one will drive you both crazy.
Address the things that really cause problems, and learn to have grace for things that might annoy you, but aren’t that big a deal.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to make your requests known. Letting things simmer will only lead to greater problems down the road.
4. Focus on Being the Best Roommate You Can Be
Instead of nitpicking your roommate, remember that we are called to love one another. Consider how you can be a blessing. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Lorenzo Antonucc
Dealing with Conflict
Despite your best efforts, not every situation can be covered. Conflict will arise. When it does, here are some strategies to deal with it.
First, communicate with God. Ask for His wisdom and guidance.
Then, communicate with your roommate. This does not include passive aggressive notes or quiet retaliation. This means sitting down to have a respectful conversation.
2. Avoid Inflammatory Language
Sometimes, people fear that having a conversation will make things worse. And it certainly can—if approached in the wrong way.
Conversations should be calm. If you need time to plan what you will say or need to cool down first, take that time. It’s even okay to tell your roommate that you are upset, but you need some time to cool down before discussing the situation.
When you do talk, avoid generalizations. “You always” or “you never” statements are sure to brook argument and offense.
Instead, be precise. “The past few weeks, you’ve forgotten a few times to take out the trash on your day.” Or, “Sometimes you have people over without asking me, and it bothers me.”
Avoid accusations. Use “I feel” statements that explain your experience. For example, “you aren’t considerate of my sleep schedule” is an accusation that will make the other person feel attacked and send them into defensive mode.
“I’ve been having trouble sleeping. Would you mind keeping the noise level down after midnight?” puts the focus on your needs instead of attacking the other person.
3. Think of Specific Steps toward Change Instead of Just Complaining
In the example above, the person who needs more sleep asked for something specific—noise levels to be kept down after midnight. The two would probably also need to discuss what that looks like.
No guests after midnight? Just no loud music or large gatherings? Maybe the other person runs the blender or coffee grinder at one in the morning, and that activity needs to be moved to a different time.
Instead of “the apartment is too messy,” discuss specific steps toward change. What tasks will each of you complete? How often?
You may think the floors need to be swept twice a week. Your roommate may think once every two weeks is plenty. Compromise with once a week. Relationships involve give and take. Come to a solution both of you can agree on, and be considerate about not demanding too much.
5. Talk to Each Other Rather Than Gossiping
It’s easy to complain to your friends about your roommate, but it doesn’t solve anything. It can be helpful to talk to one or two trusted people about how to approach a problem with your roommate, but the ultimate goal should be to figure out the problem together.
6. Own Up to Your Mistakes
Make it clear to your roommate that they can approach you with issues. When they do, listen to them. If you’ve made a mistake, apologize. Then ask for steps you can take to make the situation better.
Sometimes, you may disagree with their concerns. Try to see it from their perspective as well. Why does it bother them? Is there a way you can resolve the situation that is satisfactory to you both?
7. When Necessary, Ask for a Mediator
If you’ve taken the steps to ensure compatibility, make a roommate agreement, and keep communication open, hopefully it won’t get to this point.
However, sometimes conflicts can’t be resolved one on one. In college, an RA or hall director can mediate. In the wider world, a pastor or trusted mentor may be agreed upon.
It’s important that both of you agree to a candidate, so that one person doesn’t feel like the other is ganging up on them.
8. Look for Ways to Part Peaceably
Maybe you weren’t able to choose your roommate. Maybe they surprised you. At a certain point, you may realize that you simply cannot live with the person any longer.
(Note: if your roommate is acting illegally, that is beyond the scope of this article. This applies to personal conflict.)
If there are problems that can’t be resolved, even with mediation, explain that you can’t live together anymore. Discuss who is leaving and who is staying, if anyone.
If you’re leaving the place, give them a reasonable amount of time to find a new roommate. If you’re staying, give them a reasonable amount of time to find a new place before making them leave. These contingencies can be decided upon in your roommate agreement, so that if the time comes, you have a plan in place.
Hopefully, this will never happen to you. However, if it does, it’s helpful to plan for it in the roommate agreement, and it’s important to be civil about the parting with clear and open lines of communication, even if this involves a mediator.
Living in Christian Community
“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God said in Genesis 2:18. Friends, family, spouses, roommates—other people are a gift from God.
Having a roommate can be a fantastic experience. With God’s help, plenty of communication, and dedication to one another, it is possible to develop a God-honoring and even enjoyable and edifying relationship.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio
Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.