As much as we want to believe that we’re going to be the best of friends with our roommates and get along with each other all the time, the truth of the matter is we may not. When you live with other people, it’s natural for some tension to develop. Whether the cause is your roommate’s tendency to press snooze on her alarm half a dozen times before actually waking up or your habit of borrowing her clothes without asking permission, roomie fights are inevitable between even the closest of roommates. The question is: how do you resolve matters without wanting to strangle each other?
We talked to Irene S. Levine, psychologist and creator of The Friendship Blog, and Andrea Lavinthal, beauty editor and co-author of Friend or Frenemy?: A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don’t, as well as collegiettes around the country to get their tips on how to move on from a roomie fight (and how to deal when you just have to move out!).
Expressing your grievances to your roommate
Confrontation is never easy, especially when it comes to confronting someone you share close quarters with. However, in order to start solving an issue with a roomie, you first have to acknowledge that there is an issue.
Make concrete plans to talk
The most important part about confronting your roommate is finding the right place and time to do it. “It’s important that you have the ‘talk’ even if it is uncomfortable. Otherwise, little problems tend to snowball into big ones,” Levine says. “Try to find an opportunity when you’re both calm and have the time and privacy to speak to each other.”
Lavinthal also reminds us of the importance of finding a good space to talk. “Ask her to meet for coffee or a drink outside of the dorm or apartment so you’re on neutral territory,” she recommends. That way, both you and your roommate can feel comfortable and your talk can feel more like a conversation than an attack.
Establish a dialogue
When confronting your roommate, it’s also essential that you think of the talk as an exchange rather than one-sided. “Approach it as a discussion, not a fight, and focus on one main issue instead of listing all of your pet peeves about her,” says Lavinthal. “Don’t be surprised if your roommate brings up her own issues with you. Listen to what she has to say and try to reach a compromise that works for both of you.”
No one wants to listen to a rant. Your roommate will be much more willing to discuss the issue if you allow her to express her own grievances as well.
Be open to explanation
Keep in mind when you approach your roommate that she may have a reasonable excuse for her behavior. “Sometimes, your roommate may have a good explanation that will allay your upset,” says Levine. “Another scenario: She may not have realized that she did something to upset you. Go in with a positive attitude that you have a problem that can be resolved… amicably.”
You’ll never know your roommate’s side of the story unless you’re willing to listen to it. By keeping an open mind, you and your roommate can get to the root of the issue without any unnecessary drama.
Keeping a fight from getting worse
One of the toughest things about having a roommate is dealing with the inevitable tension that comes with an argument. Luckily, there are ways to keep from exacerbating the tension so that a solution can be reached sooner rather than later.
Never resort to being passive-aggressive
Whether it’s the big sigh you heave when your roommate’s 7 a.m. alarm goes off or the pile of her dirty clothes that you’ve gathered and left on her bed, being passive-aggressive never resolves an issue—if anything, it only fuels it. “My roommate never used to tell me when she had an issue with me,” says Jamie, a senior from Westfield State University. “She always made it abundantly clear that she was annoyed with me, like throwing away my old food before I had a chance to do it myself or ignoring my boyfriend when he was over, but she would never actually tell me what her issue with me was.”
Don’t opt for hostility—if you have a problem with your roomie, tell her! Confrontation may be scary, but your roommate can’t have a chance to fix her behavior if she doesn’t know what it is she’s doing that bothers you.
Try not to get your friends involved
Though it can be tempting to complain to other people about your roomie’s messy habits or countless late-night male visitors, it’s best not to turn to friends outside the room to help you resolve the issue.
“It is so important to handle the roommate drama between the two of you or however many roommates you have,” says Sarah, a recent graduate of Wake Forest University. “By involving your friends, it turns it into more of an issue than it has to be. Your problem with your roommate should stay between the two of you because once the issue is solved then you both can ‘bury the hatchet’ together. When other people know about your issues, those problems linger and can never go away!”
Grumbling to your friends about your roomie drama may be therapeutic, but it won’t resolve the issue. Face the issue with your roommate head on, or you may just end up with even more drama than you began with.
Find a neutral mediator
Though your friends may not be the best people to help you resolve a roommate conflict, sometimes an outside party can be of assistance. By finding someone who can mediate your argument without bias, you and your roommate can come to a solution without pointing fingers.
“When my roommate and I had issues last year, I ended up sending a message to our RA asking if she could help us sort things out,” says Mary, a junior from Syracuse University. “It was really helpful. She had us create a contract with each other so we had some set rules for the room — I don’t think that’s something we would have ever thought to do on our own!”
Seeking out the help of an RA, an RD or any sort of mentor or adviser can really help when you and your roomie simply can’t see eye to eye. You may think it’s best to keep the conflict between you and your roomie, but a neutral third party can sometimes help find a solution neither of you would have thought of yourselves.
Apologizing to your roommate
Sometimes saying you’re sorry can go a whole lot further than trying to insist that you’re right. You may not feel that you’re at fault in a situation (at least, not entirely), but saying those magic words can help smooth over any roomie drama.
Make the first move
“If you messed up and you know it, it’s best to just bite the bullet and say your ‘I’m sorry’ as soon as you can,” says Levine. “If you have said or done something wrong, apologize as soon as you realize you made the mistake. Don’t wait for her to bring it up to you.”
Don’t let that tension build. The sooner you get your apology out of the way, the better!
Acknowledge what you did wrong
If you really want your apology to mean something, you’ve got to make sure you address exactly what it is you did. “Say ‘I’m sorry that I ate all of your gluten free waffles/spilled red wine on your white duvet/wear headphones whenever your boyfriend comes over,’” says Lavinthal. “Acknowledging what you did wrong will make your apology more sincere.”
A general apology is nice, but acknowledging your mistake will really make the difference. Otherwise, your roomie may not even know what it is you’re apologizing for.
Give her time to get over it
Chances are, your roommate’s not going to forgive you instantly (even though you’d like her to). “Accept that it might take your roommate a day or two to get over it,” says Lavinthal. Your roommate will probably be willing to forgive and forget if you give a sincere apology, but it might just take a little while for her to do it.
Levine points out that a little thoughtfulness can help that process along. “Try to find some way to make it up to her (e.g. take her for lunch or buy her a small gift),” she says. “Most of all, don’t do it again.” If she’s reasonable, she’ll come around—just be patient!
When to move out
Sometimes there’s just no solving a roomie dispute. If you simply can’t find a way to get along, it might be best for the two of you to just live apart. If you decide to move on, it’s important to break the news to your roommate in a respectful way.
Lavinthal says that you’ll know when it’s time to move out when going back to your room becomes a last resort. “If you’re going to great lengths to avoid your roommate and would rather sleep on a friend’s couch than go home, it’s time to find a new living situation,” she says.
Levine agrees that moving on is sometimes for the best. “When you’re away at school in a dorm or apartment, you don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, but you do have to show respect for each other,” she says. “If you can’t negotiate boundaries that seem reasonable to both of you, you may have no alternative but to change housing situations. Hopefully, this can be done at the end of the semester so it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s studies.”
Living with other people is difficult, and you can only accommodate another person so far. Just remember, collegiettes: Be the roommate you want your roomie to be. “For many students, this may be the first time they are living with someone besides family,” Levine says. “This takes some getting used to. Different people do things in different ways and come from different backgrounds and cultures. Learning to live with another person can be an invaluable experience.”
Your roommate may not end up being your BFF, but as long as you can live agreeably together, then you’ll be able to find a resolution to any disagreement.