Surviving and Thriving with Roommates: Conflict Resolution

Second in a series of posts, first found here.

So you’ve found some great roommates and it seems like it will be the perfect setup. Maybe you have a shared faith, seemingly complimentary personalities and interests, so what could go wrong?

Well…a lot.

In my experience, it’s not so much a matter of if you and your roommates will end up clashing at some point; it’s a matter of when. But the good news is that some occasional inter-roommate conflict doesn’t necessarily have to mean a miserable living situation or no fun at all in your home. Here are some practical tips to keep your new home-life as pleasant as possible.

An Ounce of Prevention

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || An Ounce of Prevention

If you and your roommates have busy lives with work, school, or other relationships, there are a lot of around-the-house tasks that can fall through the cracks from one or more of you.

When I lived with three other young women during grad school, this type of thing was one of our biggest sources of conflict.

Our dishes would frequently pile up in the sink, and one girl (not me; I can be pretty lame when I’m busy) typically ended up cleaning the whole sink-full every time by herself. Some of us would completely forget ever to buy toilet paper, and suddenly one person was funding the whole household’s bathroom hygiene supplies.

Eventually, we worked out a rotation system to deal with these things. But I have to think we would have been a lot better off if the four of us had sat down at the very beginning and put a schedule of it all down on paper.

So at the beginning of the roommate-dom, you and your roommates should really make it a priority to have a household meeting and schedule out a rotation of cleaning tasks and of purchasing for communal household supplies.

If it’s on paper, it’s much harder for people to forget or to get confused on when it’s actually their turn—which of course means less resentment from the parties who would otherwise be picking up the slack.

The All-Important Communication Issue

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || The All-Important Communication Issue

While it might not sound like a genius tip for me to say, “Just talk to your roommate about the problem you’re having with them,” that was really what I needed someone to tell me when I lived with roommates.

I personally do not like conflict and try to avoid it if possible. So at the time it seemed much easier for me to just put up with things I didn’t like than to make something out of it. Big mistake.

Being very human and imperfect, all my silence really accomplished was a growth of simmering resentment on my part.

It’s true that you can try to be the bigger person and offer/suck up the inconvenience your roommate is causing you. If you’re actually successful at this, go you! But it’s probably more likely that, despite your good intentions, resentment will eventually start to fester.

Another way to look at this matter is that you’re not really doing your roommate any favors by keeping quiet about these things. If they have no idea that their continual monopoly of the kitchen is driving you crazy, or that their late-night phone conversations are robbing you of sleep, they’ll probably keep on being inconsiderate and will eventually annoy the crap out of other roommates, and perhaps in the future even drive a spouse to the brink of insanity.

Have mercy on that future spouse of theirs and let your roommate know when they’re being difficult to live with.

Make Use of a Neutral Third-Party

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || Make Use of a Neutral Third-Party

When I trained to be a resident assistant (RA) in my dorm during college, they made us role play through some case scenarios to try and solve issues we might run into as RAs. Included among these situations was one where two roommates were hard-core fighting with one another.

Luckily, I’ve never had to deal with a conflict that got to this point of intensity in my own roommate living situations, but I’ve seen firsthand that conflicts can get past the point of civil conversation, even among Catholic roommates.

If things between you and your roommate are escalating and you can’t seem to find any common ground, if you’ve tried communicating your concerns and the other person doesn’t get it, now might be the time to get an outsider’s perspective.

Obviously, when the days of dorm living and getting the RA to intervene are long-gone, this might be a little tricky. But if you have a mutual friend, or another roommate not directly involved in the conflict, try to get their help in mediation. Sometimes a calm and collected outsider’s view is all you really need to make sense of a heated argument.

It Might Not Solve Everything, But Charity Definitely Helps

Surviving and Thriving with Roommates || It Might Not Solve Everything, But Charity Definitely Helps

In the end, you and your roommates are all children of God – possibly rather annoying ones, but His children nonetheless. There might be times where you feel like punching this other person in the face, but the important thing is that you don’t, out of love for God.

Living with other people is often the complete opposite of simple or easy, but trying your best to love your roommate as yourself will definitely help put things in the right direction.