Learn how to deal with roommate conflict effectively.

How to Deal with Roommate Conflict

A great roommate can be the best friend you ever had. A bad one can make life miserable. But most roommates will fall somewhere in the middle: regular people that sometimes you’ll have issues with. So how do you keep the molehills from becoming mountains? Let’s find out how to deal with roommate conflict, and make life simpler for both of you!

1. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Your roommate may not have meant to hurt you or cause trouble. Did they know that leaving dishes in the sink would bother you, or that they weren’t supposed to eat some of your snacks? It may seem obvious to you, but it may not be obvious to them.

Look for a non-malicious explanation of their behavior. If you can’t think of one, try asking them about it in a non-accusatory way: “I felt [emotion] when I noticed you did [problem behavior]. Did you mean to do that? I wanted to ask in case something was going on there.”

2. Agree on expectations.

You and your roommate may have different ideas for how to live together, how to talk to each other, and of course, how to deal with conflict. Your family raised you with one picture of “normal,” and your roommate’s family had theirs. So ask them how they expect things should work, and let them know if it’s different from yours.

For instance, you may be annoyed that your roommate leaves the television on when no one’s watching it. You could say: “I’m used to living in a quiet house and find the TV distracting. Are you used to leaving it on?” This lets them know something is bothering you, without blaming them for it. Then you can start finding common ground.

3. Be clear about what you need.

Avoid being passive-aggressive or hoping they’ll get the hint. Your roommate won’t be able to do better unless they know what you need from them, and why it’s important. Here are a couple starting points that are firm but polite:

“I feel [emotion] when [problem] happens, and I need [desired change].”

“[Behavior] causes [problem] for me. Can we [find an alternative/stop doing it/do it in a different way]?”

4. Consider a compromise.

Your roommate may point out needs of their own. If they leave the television on all the time, it might be that they’re afraid of burglary and the background noise helps them feel safer. Or maybe they have ADHD, and noise helps them study. When you and your roommate have conflicting needs or desires, look for an alternative or middle ground.

This might mean that sometimes you do things your roommate’s way, and sometimes they do it your way. It could mean they always do it your way, but you agree to do something else that helps them. Or vice-versa. There might even be a way for both of you to get your needs met: the roommate with ADHD could wear headphones, and the one with burglar anxiety could split the cost of a security system with you.

Not everything can be a compromise. Sometimes one person is simply wrong, and won’t budge, and won’t offer anything in return.

5. If you don’t know how to deal with roommate conflict on your own…

Figuring out how to deal with roommate conflict is sometimes much tougher than having a calm, honest conversation. If either of you is dealing with stress, relationship issues, or mental health concerns, you may have a long road ahead. Some strategies that my clients find helpful for this are improving communication, setting boundaries, assertiveness, and taking care of their own mental health. Therapy sessions a great place to practice these skills – plus, you can use them to improve your other relationships, too. Drop me a line if you’re interested in developing these strengths for yourself!