Ask Anna: The roommate blues
Advice on living with roommates
Editor’s Note: Some submissions have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
I’m having trouble with my roommate, how did you deal with roommate conflicts?
Thank you for reaching out. I’m excited to answer this question because I have been so lucky to have great roommates. We’ve created a fantastic system that helped us avoid so many problems. First, I’m going to share some preemptive tactics we used, and then I will share advice for how to deal with an active conflict.
My roommates and I have a main preemptive tactic: create a roommate agreement. In this agreement, we all sit down and discuss our rules about guests, a cleaning schedule, what we do and do not share, some of our pet peeves and our weaknesses. Then, we all sign the agreement and hang it up somewhere that is readily available, typically on the fridge or on a board. This sets out our expectations right away and helps avoid conflict because we came to agreements before a problem occurred. Additionally, by adding pet peeves and weaknesses, we give each other more grace and avoid potential annoyances.
Now you also need tools to deal with a conflict when it is happening. Our agreement sets out rules for how we would deal with a conflict. While you may not have a preemptive agreement like that, you can still come up with ideas in real time. One thing I will stress is trying to put yourself in their shoes before coming into the conflict with anger. They may absolutely be in the wrong, but the conflict will only deepen if you both aren’t respectful to one another.
With that, I would recommend setting aside time for a conversation. You can keep it casual with a simple, “Hey can we have a check-in with each other?” as a way to keep your roommate from feeling like they are entering a hostile environment. Then, when you do set aside time to talk, discuss the conflict in a way that reflects your discomfort and come up with some solutions that can work for both of you. This could be, “Something that I am not used to in my living situation is …” or “I think we should implement a calendar or chart to keep us on track with things our living situation needs,” or even “This made me feel uncomfortable and I would like to talk about it with you so that we can solve the situation together.”
I cannot stress enough how important it is to enter into these conversations with a level head and a plan to work together to solve the problem, especially because you are living with this person. Entering into a conversation with anger and a need to win rather than a goal of problem-solving could worsen the situation altogether and make living with each other extremely uncomfortable.
Lastly, after you work through this conflict, I recommend making a roommate agreement that includes conflict resolution that you both agree on for future use.
My roommate is relatively clean, but I kind of just need her to do some things because it icks me out and makes me mad. I don’t really know how to specify some of my particularities.
I would refer you to the question I answered above, because I think creating an agreement that also lists out your particularities and pet peeves will be a lifesaver in this situation. Also refer to the question above to understand ways to resolve the conflict. Coming at this with solutions and understanding will help solve the problem at hand.
You could start this conversation by explaining what you are used to and things that make you uncomfortable. This allows your roommate to see where you are coming from. In this situation, I would do a compliment sandwich. First, I would highlight your appreciation for the things she does clean and then delve into your specifics. Explain to her that you have specific cleanliness needs and that you want to reach a solution that addresses your needs but doesn’t make her feel like she is being talked down to. Then, you could finish by reaffirming that you enjoy living with her and you appreciate her as a friend and roommate.
As for specifying your particularities, I would frame the conversation around what needs you have rather than what she is failing to do. This can make the conversation less combative while also getting at the point that this is something you care about and would like to see implemented. Remember, your roommate has no way of knowing your needs unless you discuss them.
Anna Gephart is a Senior in the School of Public Affairs and is a columnist for The Eagle.
This article was edited by Jelinda Montes, Alexis Bernstein and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.