Having a roommate brings many advantages and disadvantages, and with time, you’ll discover them all. They help save money on the bills since everything is cut in half — or more if you have multiple roommates. They can be your best friend, too. When you have a bad day and need someone to talk to or want to go out and have fun, your roommate is the first person who’s there for you.
Eventually, though, even the best roommates will have disagreements. How you approach these disagreements can make or break a living situation. There will come a time when there’s a fight brewing, and it doesn’t matter what causes it. Even if the argument is over something personal and you believe you’ve been wronged, you still have an equal responsibility to do your part to deescalate the situation and find a solution.
If you haven’t faced this situation yet or if you’ve run out of ideas on how to handle it, here are some easy tips to try to help handle arguments. The goal is for you and your roommate to walk away from the discussion better off than you were before, without damaging your relationship. These tips are great ways to do just that, so don’t stress anymore about roommate arguments and just enjoy living with your friend:
It’s easy to want to run from conflict when you don’t know how to deal with it, and you don’t want to mess anything up. What if you say the wrong thing and end up ruining the friendship you have with your roommate? Anxiety can cause thoughts to spin out of control, so when conflict starts to build up, don’t panic.
Resolving conflict is all about communication skills. There are ways you can improve your ability to communicate, so you don’t have to worry if your roommate starts to get upset about something. The best thing you can do at the start of an argument is make sure your body language is open — so don’t cross your arms! — and always listen even if you don’t want to.
What your roommate cares about might not be what you care about, but that doesn’t matter. Before finding a solution, you have to try to see both sides of the situation. The importance of knowing how to listen to both sides of an argument can’t be stressed enough.
If your roommate is mad about you leaving your socks in the hallway, give them as much respect as if they were complaining about you not locking the front door at night. Dismissing a person before you listen never helps anyone.
Let’s say that you need to talk to your roommate because they never do their dishes. You feel like you’re being taken advantage of since you are always doing them. It would defeat the purpose if you started a conversation by saying that your roommate was being problematic by not helping out more around the house. All your roommate is going to hear is the word “problematic” and then get defensive, immediately rejecting the idea of helping you because now they’re mad, too.
Instead, start off a conversation by opening up. Showing your roommate that you’re willing to be emotionally vulnerable will keep them from being defensive. Say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve been feeling hurt lately because I seem to do all the dishes, so can we talk about it?” By focusing on how you feel instead of accusing your roommate of doing anything on purpose, the peace will be kept more easily.
Imagine that your roommate drives you crazy because they like to stay up after you go to bed, and they’re often noisy. You’ve calmly asked them to quiet down multiple times in the past, but they still don’t think to lower their volume after you say goodnight. This can feel personal, but the way to solve it does not involve stooping to their supposed level by attacking their character.
Attacking a person’s character is called using the ad hominem attack. This is when you start tearing down who they are rather than their stance in an argument. In this scenario, it would be calling them names for never considering your need to sleep. Instead, ask why this keeps happening and work out a solution that works for both parties. Insulting your roommate’s character is another way to make them defensive and unwilling to work out a conflict.
At the end of a conversation about conflict, you may not understand why your roommate did what they did. That’s where keeping an open mind comes in. They left a candle burning all night and genuinely didn’t think anything about it when they went to sleep.
Even though it may seem like common knowledge to blow out the candles before you leave the room, your roommate might not have grown up in a house where fire safety was taught. Keep an open mind as best as you can to understand instead of fight.
There are some unfortunate times where you can’t resolve conflict between roommates. Maybe your issue wasn’t dealt with quickly enough, so you lose trust. In that case, involve a neutral party in the situation. If you’re in college, that would be the resident assistant, or RA. Their training includes de-escalating conflict, so they’ll know how to help you communicate.
If you are out of college, you might be able to find someone you both know who can act as an unbiased mediator. For instance, a shared work friend. Needing help doesn’t mean either of you are bad people or not good as roommates. It’s better to do your research about conflict resolution and potentially ask for help. It sure beats constantly fighting and losing a friend over disagreements about your living situation.