How to Handle Conflict with a Roommate

Whether you’re used to sharing a home with other people or you’re living with a roommate for the first time, issues are bound to arise when you share a living space with another human being.

For instance, disagreements about finances, thermostat temperatures, noise levels, cleanliness, and daily household chores are just a few of the many potential issues that may arise between roommates. Other common issues may pertain to the guests or significant others of roommates, especially if guests spend the night or stay over for an extended period of time.

While the thought of living with a new roommate may seem daunting, there are plenty of ways to handle issues such as these in a responsible and respectful manner. However, honest communication and the ability to listen to one another is generally the key to creating and maintaining a peaceful living situation. To learn more about how to handle conflict with a roommate (without making things awkward around the home), review the information below.

Draft a Roommate Agreement

Not all roommates create an agreement before moving in with one another, especially if they are friends, co-workers or siblings. However, doing so can help roommates to develop general rules and guidelines for their home, creating a peaceful and more comfortable living situation. If you fail to create a contract before moving in with your roommate, you may choose to draft an agreement when conflict does arise, as doing so will prevent the same issue from reappearing in the future.

For instance, a roommate agreement may be used to:

  • Assign household chores between roommates. For instance, chores may include the task of cleaning, bill paying, grocery shopping and loading or unloading the dishwasher.
  • Divide the cost of bills, utilities and other expenses between roommates. Which roommate will pay for the internet or heating costs? Will both roommates pay a certain percentage of each bill?
  • Create a policy that pertains to pets, overnight guests and significant others. If you plan to host an overnight guest, do you need to give your roommate a 24-hour notice? What is your pet policy?
  • Create rules and guidelines for hosting parties or social gatherings. Do your guests need to leave your home by a certain time on a weeknight?  

When an issue arises, schedule a conversation with your roommate and return to the signed agreement. If your roommate is not maintaining his or her end of the deal, be sure to address your concerns and discuss options for improvement. Your roommate may simply need a reminder that he or she is responsible for keeping the refrigerator stocked and the bathrooms cleaned, or maybe your roommate earns more money than you do and would rather pay more for housing costs than keep up on the chores. If your initial guidelines and responsibilities no longer make sense to you or your roommate, make changes to the contract.

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Be Upfront With One Another

When a problem arises with your roommate, you may choose to ignore the issue and hope that it disappears on its own, or you may blow the problem way out of proportion, creating a hostile living environment between you and your housemate. To reduce the risk of making either mistake, however, it is important to respectfully address issues as soon as they arise—no matter how large or miniscule they may be. If your roommate repeatedly leaves dirty dishes in the sink, for instance, politely let him or her know that doing so is a pet peeve of yours, and you would prefer if all dishes were loaded into the dishwasher at the end of each meal. Chances are, your roommate will appreciate your straightforwardness.  

Listen, Affirm, Respond and Add

As a general rule, experts in conflict management recommend using the Listen, Affirm, Respond and Add (LARA) method whenever conflict needs to be resolved in a constructive way. This is especially useful when resolving conflict between roommates, as this method helps all household members to understand one another more easily. When addressing an issue with a housemate, for instance, it is important to:

  • Listen to your roommate’s words and tone of voice. Observe his or her body language, as this alone can tell you a great deal about the situation.
  • Affirm or recognize what was said to you. Rather than agreeing or disagreeing with your roommate, acknowledge what he or she told you by repeating your roommate’s concerns back to him or her.
  • Respond to your roommate’s concerns. Ask questions to help you understand the situation more clearly.
  • Add your own thoughts and feelings to the conversation. After listening to your roommate’s feelings and concerns, it is important to share your own thoughts and ideas for reaching an agreement.  

Entrust in a Mediator

If you and your roommate find it difficult to solve an issue on your own, a third-party mediator may be able to help. However, meditators need to be unbiased, so they shouldn’t be the significant other or best friend of you or your roommate. Instead, use a neutral party or hire a professional mediator or therapist. Before the mediation, sit down with your roommate and put together a list of topics that need to be discussed during the meeting. Create a list of issues and goals and think about the ways in which each of you may be willing to compromise.

Develop Solutions for Common Problems

If the same issues continue to arise between you and your roommate, come up with ideas that simplify both of your lives. If your roommate repeatedly leaves his or her dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, for instance, pick up a bathroom laundry basket that can be used to keep clothes and towels off the floor. Then, politely ask your roommate to put his or her clothes in the basket rather leaving them on the floor.

If your roommate likes to keep the thermostat set at 68, but you’re more comfortable at a warmer 75 degrees, discuss the idea of installing an additional air conditioning unit in your roommate’s bedroom. If your roommate is noisy or you’re on opposite schedules, however, prevent future complications by noise-proofing your home or bedrooms. For example, noise-reducing curtains, padded carpeting, weather-stripped doors, and acoustic ceiling panels can all help to reduce noise levels in a home.

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