Living with roommates can sometimes be challenging, especially if you aren’t getting along. Here are some tips and strategies to help you navigate disagreements and conflict with your roommates.
If you haven’t already, sit down with your roommate to create a living agreement that outlines how you’d both like to live together. If you already have a roommate agreement in place, consider reviewing it and making changes. It's okay if your living situation and relationship changes over time, and your roommate agreement should reflect that. Try to work together to brainstorm a list of expectations and guidelines. Be sure to write down every suggestion before fine-tuning your roommate agreement. Here are some topic areas you may want to consider:
You can create a roommate agreement to establish common ground and hold everyone accountable. Make sure everyone is on the same page and that everyone is able to share their input. Try using this free roommate agreement template to get started.
Consider how you communicate with each other
When your roommate irritates you or gets on your nerves, be sure to address it quickly before it festers. Addressing issues through text, social or sticky notes on the fridge or door may feel like an easy way to avoid conflict, but it can also lead to miscommunication and increased frustration.
Instead, make time to bring up the issue in person, ideally when you’re both at home with minimal distractions. Make a plan and think through how you can express your needs—this will help you feel more prepared. Remember to use “I” statements to describe how the situation makes you feel. Here are some examples of how to use “I” statements:
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.
Understand your impact
If someone expresses that your words or actions have harmed them, it’s important to remember that your intentions may not always match with how it made the other person feel. Take a moment to acknowledge how the other person was impacted by your actions and try to reflect on things you can do in the future to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Sharing these two things while apologizing or making amends can go a long way. It’s also important to keep in mind that half-hearted apologies can do more harm than good.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to ask the other person if there is anything that can be done to make things right. Making amends can be a valuable part of healing and moving forward.
For example, a good apology and amends might sound something like, “I’m sorry for not cleaning up after myself. I know that was disrespectful to you. In the future, I’ll be sure to clean up after myself before moving on to other activities. Is there something I can do now to fix this situation?”
Avoid using this time to try to explain yourself, and refrain from using statements like, “I’m sorry I made you angry, but…” Instead, empathize with the other person to help resolve the underlying conflict.
Know when it’s time for a break
Pay attention to the ways your body responds in times of stress or conflict. Knowing and recognizing the things that make us feel upset or angry can help us take a step back before doing or saying something we probably don’t mean. For instance, do you notice your fist or jaw clenching during heating discussions? Do you feel a tightness in your chest or stomach when situations get tense? Being mindful of these signals can help us determine when we need to cool down or take a few breaths before starting or continuing the conversation.
If you’re already in the middle of a disagreement, let the other person know you want to have this conversation with them, but that you need to pause for a bit or take a break. This may sound something like, “This conversation is really important to me, and I’m not in the best state of mind to have it right now. I would like to take a step back and cool off before saying something I don't mean. Can we talk about this in 20 minutes?” This signals to them that resolving the ongoing conflict is important to you and you want to handle it effectively.
Allow space for differences
While it would be nice, people don't change 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. Having a healthy relationship with your roommate doesn’t always mean that you’ll be best friends in the end. However, it’s important to continue communicating and working together.
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.