6 Conflict Resolution Tips for Dealing With Roommate Drama

Peter Chambers

Feb 28, 2023

how to deal with roommate conflict

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How do you typically handle conflict resolution?

These days, it’s nearly impossible for a single person to save for a home of their own without first sharing a roof with one or more others. Having roommates is one way to combat today’s soaring rental costs, but it doesn’t come without its share of drama. 

However, it’s imperative to learn to coexist. Few things cause more mental distress than feeling like a prisoner in your home. Here are six ways that you can handle conflict resolution and live in peace.

1. Set Aside Time to Talk 

“We need to talk.” You know how those words can strike fear in people’s hearts. However, sometimes there’s no substitute for sitting down with your roommate and discussing what’s bothering you. 

Instead of bringing up your concerns out of the blue, set aside a time when you both feel calm. If possible, discussing important issues like borrowing each other’s belongings and inviting overnight guests before you sign the lease agreement is best. However, you shouldn’t delay if things are bothering you. Prepare yourself for your talk, including brushing up on your listening skills and regulating your emotions so you can hear their side. 

Follow these dos and don’ts when you sit down to chat:

  • Do: Use “I” statements. Instead of saying, “You are such a slob! You throw your filthy clothes everywhere with zero consideration for anyone else,” try, “I feel uncomfortable in a cluttered environment. Can we establish basic rules for picking up our things out of common areas?” 
  • Don’t: Get defensive. It’s natural to feel attacked, especially if the other person uses an aggressive tone. Instead, practice saying, “Let me be sure I understand. You’re saying that….” 
  • Do: Practice compromise. Maybe you originally said no overnight guests except on weekends, but their sister recently lost their home. If you agree to keep it otherwise quiet and respectful, can you bend the weekday rule for a month or two? 
  • Don’t: Feel like you have to resolve everything in one conversation. If things get heated, or you can’t come to a compromise, agree to disagree for now and reconvene another day. 

2. Agree on Boundaries 

You can avoid most roommate conflicts by establishing appropriate boundaries right out of the gate. When you first seek someone to share a home with, make a list of needs and wants, deal-breakers and places you’re willing to compromise. 

For example, you might insist on a strict hands-off policy regarding each others’ rooms and belongings. Be aware that some people consider it normal to slip into their roommate’s bathroom and appropriate a few squirts of hairspray. Make the ground rules clear to avoid future conflicts. 

Will you share meals or keep separate diets? What about loud music or other noisy activities — are certain hours more okay than others? Iron out the details and consider putting them in writing to smooth your relationship. 

3. Choose Your Battles 

People are human, and few folks see eye to eye on everything. Taking a “my way or the highway” attitude is a surefire way to end up miserable — and lonely. Instead, choose your battles. 

For example, it’s one thing if your roommate turns your refrigerator into a science experiment, allowing overdue food to grow mold and stinking up your pantry with rotten potatoes. However, is it really that big of a deal if they leave their dishes in the sink overnight a time or two when they come home after a 12-hour shift? 

4. Adopt a Pull Together Attitude

When conflicts arise, people take one of two tracks: they work against each other or pull together. The latter option harmonizes relationships; the former perpetuates conflicts. 

Try this mental reframing the next time your roommate drives you crazy. Ask yourself, “Are they doing this intentionally to annoy me, or is it an innocent misunderstanding?” Often, we don’t recognize our defensiveness until we take a mindful step back and reassess. 

It’s a problem if your roommate wants one thing, and you feel differently. However, it’s one you can solve together if you take the attitude of “how can this work best for the both of us” instead of only considering your needs. 

5. Use Technology and Barriers

Sometimes, the solution to your roommate conflict is as close as your nearest department store, assuming you have the funds. For example, it’s fairly unreasonable to expect your flatmate not to watch TV at 6 p.m, but excessive noise might grind your gears if you have sensory issues. Could a pair of noise-canceling headphones be your solution? 

What if you share a dorm, and your roommate’s desk lamp keeps you up each time they pull an all-nighter? Can you invest in a bed tent that creates a dark, private retreat for you to get your Zzzs? 

6. Call for Help 

Finally, you can invite a third party for their perspective if you and your roommate can’t resolve your conflict. Your resident advisor will likely mediate your discussion if you’re sharing a dorm. What can you do if you’re living off campus or already an adult?

One idea is to agree on a neutral third party. If you both run in the same circles, it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone willing to listen to both sides, although you should reassure them that their perspective won’t hurt your friendship. Another option is to locate a professional mediator. While this option will cost you a bit, it’s often far less expensive than taking matters to court. 

How to Deal With Roommate Conflict 

Adult life sometimes means sharing a roof with other people. You might not always see eye to eye, but you need to resolve your differences for your mental health. 

Follow the six tips above to deal with roommate conflict. You can come to a mutual agreement and harmonize your living arrangement. 

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