Two students in masks standing in front of a residence hall on move in day.

Living with a roommate can be a big adjustment, even if they’re a friend. This is because living with roommates can be very different from living with family, and sometimes compromise is necessary. Here are five things everyone should know about having roommates. 

1: First impressions aren’t always accurate

Raise your hand if you’ve looked your roommate up online before meeting them (). While this type of information gathering can satisfy your curiosity, it’s important to remember that people may present themselves differently on social media than they are in real life. Try to take your first impressions of someone with a grain of salt, whether it’s in person or online. Give it some time and commit to getting to know them over the next few weeks. Focus on the things you have in common (interests, hobbies, etc.) and allow space for differences. 

2: Creating ground rules is essential

Not sure what to say? Try this when your roommate (or anyone):

  • Refuses to wear a mask because they aren’t worried about getting sick:
    “I know wearing a mask may not be comfortable, and yet it’s better than being sick and is a way to protect all of us.”
  • Wants to have a party or have more people over than you're comfortable with:
    “Having lots of people in close contact can increase the spread of the virus, and the more it spreads the less likely we are to stay on campus this semester. Can we just have a few friends over instead?”
  • Is angry about the public health guidelines and feels like they aren’t able to meet new friends or have the “college experience”:
    “I’m sure this is different from what you were expecting. Would you be interested in looking at some different ways to get involved and meet new people?” 

If you and your roommate disagree on which health guidelines to follow, it’s more effective to defer to the person with a higher boundary. So if one of you is more strict about guidelines, try to take that person’s lead when making decisions about what to do.

A lot of conflict between roommates arises from having different expectations, miscommunication and other subtle misperceptions. Work on building a strong relationship with your roommate from the get-go by setting ground rules together. Talk with your roommates about expectations, habits and routines for when you move in. Some topics to discuss may include:

  • Morning and bedtime routines (quiet hours, class times, etc.)
  • Cleanliness of shared spaces (clutter, laundry, dishes, etc.)
  • Visitors (friends, significant others, overnight guests, etc.)*
    *Residence Halls have new visitor and guest policies for students living on campus. 
  • Public health guidelines (wearing a face covering, physical distancing, what to do if a roommate gets sick or tests positive)
  • Borrowing or using each other’s things (electronics, food, etc.)
  • Purchasing common items (cleaning supplies, toilet paper, etc.)
  • Parking arrangements
  • Preferred ways to address conflict and discuss issues

Create a roommate agreement to establish common ground rules and hold everyone accountable. Make sure everyone is on the same page and that the rules are outlined together with input from each person. On-campus residents can reach out to their RA for help in setting up a roommate agreement. Off-campus residents can use this roommate agreement template as a starting point.

3: Communication is key

If you’re upset with a roommate, it’s better to address it sooner than later before it festers. Addressing issues through text, social media or a note on the door can seem easier but often leads to miscommunication or increased frustration. Since we can’t control how the message is received, it may lead to more (and bigger) issues down the road.

Instead, choose a time to bring up the issue in person, ideally when you are both at home with no distractions. Make a plan and think about how you can express your needs—this will help you feel more prepared, and the conversation won’t catch you off guard. Remember to use “I” statements to describe how the situation makes you feel. For instance, “I feel worried when people come over and aren’t wearing face coverings or physically distancing themselves because I don’t do as well in online classes and want to ensure I can keep showing up in person.”

While you’re having a conversation with your roommate, be sure to listen for understanding and ask follow up questions to ensure you’re interpreting what they’re saying correctly. Resist the urge to formulate a response to what they’re saying while they’re speaking. Instead, focus your full attention on the emotions, issues and reasoning that your roommate is bringing up.

4: Everyone handles conflict differently (and that’s okay)

People handle conflict differently, based on the situation, their conflict style and the person the conflict is with. However, there are some common themes that may show up in a person’s response again and again. Learning how you approach conflict can be a great opportunity to learn or refine your skills for successful conflict resolution. 

You can take this Conflict Style quiz to learn more about your approach and how your default response impacts your behaviors and attitudes toward conflict. Encourage those around you – roommates, friends, family – to take it, too, so you can learn how to work better together. Sometimes, these styles may appear in conflict with one another, so knowing other people’s styles can be helpful in reframing your approach or working to find alternative solutions when conflict does arise. 

5: Be open to compromise

While it would be nice, change doesn’t happen overnight. Disagreements don’t always resolve the way we’d like, and more often than not, seeing progress requires a series of conversations and a willingness to keep trying.

If things feel like they’re unresolved, let the person know you appreciate their time and you’d like to follow up with them in the future. If things are resolved quickly, share your appreciation and gratitude with the other person and let them know you value their help and input.

If you live on campus and need additional support, your RA can be a great resource to help mediate conversations and help everyone come to an agreement. Talk with your roommate, and set up a time with your RA to discuss any unresolved issues. If you live off-campus or would like to explore other resources, the Conflict Resolution Program provides services to help students navigate conflicts in a variety of relationships, including roommates, partners, friends, professors, classmates and more. They offer free workshops and coaching sessions for students looking to improve their skills around conflict management and conflict resolution. 

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