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6 Ways to Deal With Roommate Conflict

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at MSU chapter.

Some people have wonderful roommate experiences their freshman year of college. Through a wonderful series of events, they become the best of friends, live together for the next four years, take adorable Tumblr-worthy photos, and decorate their graduation caps with matching sparkly Spartan helmets. They write long, heartfelt Instagram posts about how grateful they are to have been placed randomly with someone who they know will be their best friend forever. Five years later, they’re each other’s maids-of-honor and you think, “Wow. I can’t wait to have a roommate like that! College is going to be amazing!”

And then you get to college.

Suddenly, your roommate dreams get flushed down the toilet because you realize that sharing a cardboard-box sized space takes work. That, my friend, is a tough reality to face, especially after the idealized image you had been perfecting all summer.

Roommate conflict can sprout from just about anything when you’re living in such tight quarters. Spats start because your roommate doesn’t clean, or doesn’t shower regularly, or stays up too late and leaves the lights on, or always has their significant other in the room, or borrows your favorite sweater without asking, and so on and so forth. The list of potential quarrels is endless. Here are a few handy tips for dealing with roommate conflict so that, no matter what, your room is always a safe haven from the stressors of school.

1. Communicate frequently, honestly, and openly

When things bother us, it’s pretty easy to convince ourselves to just let it slide this time around because, let’s be honest, conflict sucks. Necessary evil though it may be, it sucks. However, before too long, all of the tiny nuisances accumulate into an insurmountable laundry list of issues, and your roommate is not going to be receptive to a 20 minute PowerPoint presentation outlining each irritating thing they did over the past several weeks.

Instead of letting it get to that point, maintain a constant stream of communication. If your roommate does something that grates on your nerves, bring it up. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to accommodate you. Don’t let the little things add up to big things. I guarantee you, they aren’t worth it.

2. Revisit your roommate agreement

When you don’t know where to start, go back to the beginning. If you’re having disagreements about visitors or what items are communal versus personal, maybe it’s time to refer to the roommate agreement you filled out at the beginning of the semester. Go back through it carefully and make sure you’re on the same page. And, remember, it’s a binding contract. You should both be holding up your end of the deal when you sign the agreement too. Make your expectations clear and explicit and write them down on the agreement. If you have any doubt about a topic, talk it through with your roommate. Minimize the murky territory as best you can.

3. Be assertive

When voicing your issues to your roommate, do not let them walk all over you and certainly don’t let them lead you down separate irrelevant rabbit holes. Stay focused and stick to your guns. Don’t shy away from the problem. Your needs matter. Your comfort in your own room matters. If your roommate does something in your shared space that makes you uncomfortable, don’t back down and let that continue. Be assertive, be strong and let them know that whatever they’re doing isn’t okay with you.

4. Compromise

Be willing and prepared to compromise when working through problems with your roommate. None of us are perfect people, therefore we aren’t perfect roommates either. We all have our flaws. For that reason, be open-minded when going into discussions with your roommate and be willing to give a little bit too, even if you’re certain that the fault does not lie with you. You’re most likely going to have to give a little to get a little, and it’s worth it in the long run.

5. Don’t lay all the blame on your roommate

They are a human being and will get defensive. Use “I feel” statements and communicate the way their actions or behaviors have affected you. Don’t paint a portrait of yourself as a victim and your roommate as a villain. Accept and acknowledge your role in any roommate dilemmas and take responsibility for your errors.   

6. Talk to your RA

Sometimes, people are not receptive. And, let’s face it: there are some people in this world that just don’t live well with others and that’s okay. After exhausting your other options, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Go to your RA! It’s their job to help you handle conflicts. Talk to them about the issues you’ve been having with your roommate and set up a time where they can sit down with you and help mediate a conversation about issues. A third-party influence can make a huge difference in working through problems.

Conflict is difficult and uncomfortable, but you shouldn’t be fighting to avoid it. When times get tough with your roommate, the best thing you can do for yourself is face it head on. Always remember that your dorm room should be a safe space for you to rest and rejuvenate before tackling each day on campus. You deserve to feel comfortable in the space you’re paying for. Take action to make sure that the room you go back to each night is a drama-free environment.


Taylor is an alumnus of Michigan State University's James Madison College and Honors college, holding a Bachelor of Arts in Social Relations and Policy and a minor in Women's and Gender Studies. She formerly served as the Editor-in-Chief and co-Campus Correspondent of MSU's chapter. She works in Lansing She's passionate about women's rights, smashing the patriarchy, and adding to her fuzzy sock collection.
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