10 Ways to be a Good Roommate
Many people think that there is some mysterious and inexplicable compatibility magic that makes some roommates work and some not work. In our experience, most problems result because roommates struggle to communicate both their own needs and their concerns about their roommates. Check this out…
- Do some self reflection.
Have you ever shared a room before? If not, how might that be a change for you? Do roommates need to be best friends? Are you expecting your roommate to be your best friend? Is that expectation realistic, particularly before you’ve met? Are you a sharer, or are you protective of your belongings? Are you a person who values privacy, or are you more open? How are you feeling about moving away from home?
- Talk to your roommate before you arrive on campus.
Where are you from? What’s your family like? What are your hobbies? What do you like to do? What’s your major? Call again another time to discuss what belongings you’re bringing. Do you want to share everything? Are there some things that you don’t want to share? This is a good time to communicate this to your roommate, particularly if you are more protective of your stuff.
- Take your Roommate Agreement seriously.
When you arrive, your RA will have you and your roommate work on a Roommate Agreement. It is a process by which you and your roommate will set some ground rules. Without fail, the students who spend more time on this process have fewer problems later. Some students struggle with being honest in this process because it’s so early in the year and it’s difficult to “rock the boat.” Taking the risk in being honest will help avoid problems later.
- Conflict is going to happen, and that’s OK.
You are sharing a small space for two people. All of us have different needs. Therefore, conflict is going to happen. Even in our own families there is some conflict. Conflict is rarely easy, but with practice it can become easier. Roommate Agreements can be tools to make conflict easier for everyone. Make sure to spend time on your Roommate Agreement. If things change, don’t be afraid to pull out the Agreement and renegotiate what’s in it. When dealt with honestly and respectfully, conflict can build stronger relationships.
- Be honest with yourself.
Sometimes people get into the habit of “letting things slide” and pretending they aren’t bothered by other people’s behavior. This may avoid conflict in the short term, but when the little things add up to some major frustration, typically it has become a much bigger deal than it might have been had the two had a conversation early on.
- Learn to pick your battles.
As with #5, some people wait to long to confront. Unfortunately, some of us confront too quickly. Remember that relationships are about give and take. Understand that we sometimes bring unrealistic expectations to relationships. Try not to take that out on your roommate, and be patient if your roommate slips and takes it out on you.
- Talk to your RA, HD, or AHD.
Your RA, HD, and RHD have gone through some training on how to handle roommate conflicts. They can help you figure out the best way to deal with your frustrations, or can even help you practice what you’d say to your roommate.
- Learn how to give and receive feedback.
When you are confronting your roommate, remember that you are confronting behavior. Choose your words carefully so as not to personally attack your roommate. “You’re a slob” is less likely to get your roommate to clean the dishes than “I feel frustrated when you don’t wash the dishes because the room gets stinky.” Remember, you’re trying to get the behavior to change, so keep your mind on that. If you’ve waited to confront your roommate for so long that now your anger and frustration are overwhelming, you probably won’t be very effective at getting the change in behavior you want. If your roommate confronts you, remember that they are trying to improve your roommate relationship. Listen and reflect on what your roommate is telling you.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T, it’s not just a song by Aretha Franklin
Having a genuine respect for your roommate will take you a long way in navigating your roommate relationship. Assume that your roommate, like everyone you meet, has something to teach you, and take the time to learn what that is. Give your roommate the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he or she is NOT deliberately trying to bother you. Also, although it sometimes might be tempting to vent your frustrations to your friends and neighbors, don’t. Your roommate deserves the respect to hear your concerns from you, not from someone else. If you need to confront your roommate, pick a good time. If you’re angry, don’t leave a nasty note. You might feel better about giving your roommate a piece of your mind, but it rarely (if ever) helps the situation. Don’t avoid a face-to-face conversation because it’s easier.
- Being best friends isn’t the same thing as well-matched roommates.
Sometimes people think that just because they are good friends means they’ll be great roommates. On the contrary, sometimes close friendships get in the way of being honest or cloud the issue of what bothers us and what doesn’t, for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.