Dealing With An Incompatible Roommate

By Ashley Paskill

Even if you spend days or weeks searching for the perfect roommate and you are convinced that you found the one, things may not be so perfect once you actually start living together. Whether you live in a dorm or an apartment, your space will likely be on the smaller side, and living in tight quarters with others can prove to be a challenge. If you and your roommates end up not being as compatible as it seemed you would be, there are things you can do to ensure that you all make it to the end of the semester without going completely crazy.

Communication is key

While it may be tempting to give your roommates the silent treatment if you end up not liking them, it is best to communicate, especially when issues arise. If you live with other roommates, do not talk about the roommate you do not like behind their back as this could cause further issues. When you talk to the person, be direct yet respectful. Ask your roommate(s) if there is anything you can do to help make the living situation better on your end. Listening is just as important, if not more so, than talking in order to help communication stay open.

As soon as you sense that things are getting a bit tense, arrange a time where you can have a conversation with your roommate. Consider meeting at a restaurant or coffeehouse. Be honest about how you have been feeling without pointing fingers. It is possible that your roommate might be dealing with stress and does not realize how they have been acting. However, if they are acting how they are because they genuinely do not like you, make a plan for how to move forward.

Other tips to help communication improve is to avoid hiding behind a computer or cell phone to have the conversation and to avoid being passive-aggressive when discussing your concerns. Also, initially, keep the conversation one-on-one. If things are not improving or get worse, you may opt to bring a neutral person in, but only do this if things do not get better.

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Avoid political conversations

Many incompatibility issues may stem from differences in political opinions. It is important to meet people with different views in order to learn, these differences become difficult if your roommate is unable to agree to disagree on issues or becomes demeaning of your views. If you do find yourself having an argument about politics with your roommate, do not take their opinions personally. Try your best to stay calm, avoid cursing, and find things that you can agree on. Ideally, you should try to avoid political conversations if you know they will cause major disagreements and fights.

Set boundaries and enforce them

Boundaries are always important, but they are especially crucial if you end up disliking your roommate. Creating a roommate agreement with rules to follow, such as guidelines for having people over and personal space, is a great way to enforce boundaries. The agreement can be amended if new issues arise, but the guidelines should be followed for the most part. Create set times for studying and figure out how you are splitting room and utility costs. Make a chart that maps out who is responsible for what chores and when they need to get done. Set up consequences for times when these guidelines are not upheld by you or your roommate.

One boundary that you may want to enforce is borrowing each other’s stuff and eating each other’s food. If these have been one of the causes of the problems, you may want to enforce rules such as not borrowing things, especially without asking, and not eating the other person’s food. Reducing the issues you have to deal with can make living with a difficult roommate that much easier. Include these rules in your roommate agreement so that you have them in writing in case you need to reference them later.

Once you set boundaries, make sure you are actually abiding by them. If you yourself are not living up to your rules and boundaries, you should not expect your roommate to. Do to others as you would want to be done to you, as the golden rule states, and it is very true in the case of dealing with a difficult roommate. Even if your roommate refuses to follow the rules and boundaries, you can rest assured that you are holding up your end of the deal.

Be respectful

You may not like your roommate, but you are stuck with them for the time being. Things will be much easier for both of you if you agree to respect each other, even if you are not the biggest fans of each other. Remember that you will not be roommates forever, so hang in there and try your best to not be a terrible person. Say hi, keep them updated on friends coming over, and do your share of the chores. This will help you survive until you can move out and find a new place and new roommates. Resist the urge to just give up and not care about your side of the rent and the chores, as this will shine a bad light on you. Keep your space clean, especially if you know that your roommate needs cleanliness.

Get another party involved

Sometimes, getting a neutral party involved can be useful in figuring out how to move forward. It may be your landlord or Resident Assistant, or even a campus counselor. Getting an unbiased opinion can help you and your roommate manage the situation of not getting along, or they may be able to help you figure out how to get out. If you have a roommate agreement, share it with whoever your unbiased person is so they can keep you accountable and step in when issues arise. Try to avoid asking family members or friends to be the third party as they may be biased toward whoever they are related to or are closest to.

That said, you should be careful of who you bring in and when. See if there are ways that you can help smooth the situation over on your own. Also, be sure that the person you bring in is neutral and does not favor one of you over the other. Be cautious of who you tell even before bringing someone else in, and take any advice from family and friends with a grain of salt. Close friends and relatives are likely going to see you in a positive light and point fingers at your roommate. This may seem comforting in the moment, but if there is something you need to do differently in order to make things better, you need to hear that side.

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Be willing to compromise

Being in a disagreement where you and your roommate are polar opposites and things seem impossible to resolve can be tough. However, if you show that you are willing to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle, it is likely that your roommate will follow suit. While it may not be the most ideal situation, meeting in the middle allows you and your roommate to each get a bit of what you want while helping to end the disagreement. Showing that you are willing to work together to solve the problem can help the situation be better.

When you talk to your roommate, you may discover that they are having trouble keeping their space clean or keeping on top of their chores because of mental health issues or life problems in general. While you may not want to take on extra work, offer to help them when they do their chores and try to be understanding. It is likely that your campus has mental health resources that you can refer them to so they can get the help they need. Being willing to compromise may mean taking on some extra chores to help them through their tough time, but set a time limit so they do not keep taking advantage of this offer.

Stay calm

Dealing with roommate issues is stressful, but it is better to handle the problems when you are level-headed. If your roommate does something and you get angry, walk away, and take some time to calm down. Confronting your roommate while you are still angry can cause you to say things that you may regret and can cause issues down the line. Being calm will help you explain yourself in a way that makes sense and does not necessarily point fingers at your roommate. If you feel yourself getting upset when talking to your roommate, take a few deep breaths and try your best to keep your cool.

Do not wait for things to worsen

You may not feel like the issues you are facing are bad enough to address them with your roommate, but things will only get worse as you continue putting them off. If you wait too long, you or your roommate are likely to explode in anger and frustration. As soon as issues arise, make a point to address them. It may be tempting to ignore the problem, especially if you and your roommate are both busy, but it is much better to address issues as they arise so things can get resolved. That way, you are less likely to have feelings of dread when interacting with your roommate.

Be willing to change

While it may be tempting and easy to point fingers at your roommate as being the problem, but if your roommate brings something up that has been bothering them about how you have acted, you need to be willing to change to help make things better. It can be difficult to see faults in yourself, but nobody is perfect. Being willing to change your thoughts and habits can help ease any tension that exists between you and your roommate. Also, do not expect your roommate to think and behave the same way you do. Everyone is different, and one of the points of college is to learn about ways of thinking that are different from yours. Keep your differences in mind as you are navigating any issues that may arise so that you can know how your roommate may respond and what your roommate is willing to do. Keeping an open mind is a crucial skill in many areas of life, and this is one way to practice it.

Spend time with others

You may be tempted to spend all of your time outside of class with your roommate, but if you are having issues getting along, it is important that you give each other space. Find some new friends to spend time with, and do activities that do not require being in your apartment with your roommate. Explore the city or town you live in and see things you have not been to yet. Try new restaurants and shop at local stores. Go to campus events and join a student organization. Getting out of your apartment and branching out to meet new people can give you new perspectives and help you navigate any issues that may arise with your roommate.

Hang in there

It may seem like time is moving super slowly, but remember that this situation will not last forever. Try to make the most of the situation by having a sense of humor. If things are truly bad, see if there is a way you can move out or get a different roommate. Remember that college is about learning, and part of that is learning about new people. Having a roommate is a unique experience, so make note of any lessons you learn through the struggle you face. Also, remember that tough times help make you stronger. It is frustrating when you are going through it, but once you get through it, you will be able to look back and be proud of all you have been through.

Dealing with an incompatible roommate may seem impossible to survive, but the situation will not last forever. You will get through it and you will be proud of how strong you are when you reflect on the situation.

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