The perks of having housemates or flatmates are obvious — friendship, parties, sharing the cooking and reducing your expenses. For some, these benefits outweigh living solo. Unfortunately, not all roommate relationships resemble an episode of Friends; sometimes conflicts occur.
Maybe the ad you answered online turned into a domestic hassle, rather than domestic bliss. Maybe you moved in with your best mate, and now incompatible lifestyles are making your relationship awkward.
Sarah Fudin, community manager at the University of Southern California, states: “Conflicts arise between roommates due to differences in values and personalities.” Whatever the issue, there are many diplomatic ways to handle conflicts.
Tip 1: Be clear about expectations early
If you are about to attend uni and have a total stranger as your housemate, you really do need to make time to get to know each other. Find out what you have in common by heading out for coffee, pizza or sushi together.
Talk about your backgrounds, study habits and cleaning expectations. Some roommates find a contract helps. Check out this sample from University of Kentucky. The contract does not have to cover everything, but should include points regarding parties, lights out, and noise. Keep it light — you and your roommates are not at a job interview!
On the other hand, you may be sharing a house or unit with a good friend. Follow a similar strategy. Tell your friend you value the relationship with them, so you want to share expectations early and prevent any hiccups later on. Don’t ruin a good friendship because of stress you can prevent from the beginning.
Tip 2: Communication is key
Giving a problem time to work itself out is often a recipe for disaster. One roommate may have no idea there is a problem, while the other grows resentful. Small problems can often erupt into huge fights if not addressed early — before there are too many strong emotions.
By avoiding blaming others and suggesting possible solutions, you’ll have a better chance of resolving roommate conflicts
The University of Michigan cites the LARA method as a great tool to use when addressing any conflicts that arise with housemates or flatmates:
Listen. Let everyone involved have equal time to contribute and be heard, without interruption. Show all involved respect.
Acknowledge. Verbally acknowledge what has been said. Reflect and summarise. Show understanding.
Respond. Address the needs and interests of all roommates involved. If the conflict is bad, involve an objective third-party, like a mutual friend or student counsellor.
Add. Suggest possible solutions. Avoid blaming others or becoming defensive. Open up the discussion to make things better for everyone.
Tip 3: Offer solutions
Simply stating what is bothering you will usually just aggravate your roommate. Don’t declare them messy; you will sound like their parent! Instead ask politely and offer a reason or solution. For example:
Do you mind clearing your clothes from the bathroom floor when you are finished? It’s only a small room, and they often get wet when the rest of us use the shower. Let’s put a washing basket in there to help.
Can we all try to wash our own dishes after cooking? It’s hard for us all to cook quickly before classes if we have to clean up after each other.
In your first chat as roommates, set up a weekly or monthly meeting. You might even plan it at the local café or bar to keep it fun and informal.
Sometimes, a roommate situation may involve damage to your personal belongings or even theft. If you have any valuable items you could not afford to replace, you may wish to consider taking out contents insurance.
Whether you are at uni or in the workforce full time, roommate conflicts always tend to be about the same things: household chores, money, guests, and noise. Here are some ideas to help avoid these universal housemate and flatmate conflicts:
- Keep a list of jobs that need to be done around the house. Everyone living together should contribute to the list so the responsibility doesn’t fall on one person. Designate who will do what chores, and rotate each week.
- Gas, water and electricity bills are usually divided equally among roommates (if your rent doesn’t already include your utilities). Decide before living together how you will handle Internet and cable. Some roommates shop together for food; some don’t. Be clear about what the expectations are from the beginning with regard to money, and how bills will be paid.
- Feeling like a third wheel is never fun, so don’t make your roommate feel like one. Be open and honest from the start. Maybe there should be a regular girlfriend/boyfriend night, or at least plenty of notice if someone is staying over. Remember, this is your roommates’ home too, and they need to feel comfortable there. Communication should keep this problem from becoming a bigger conflict.
- TVs, music and parties all create noise. Planning a party? Give your housemates or flatmates plenty of notice. This way, if they need to study or find a quiet place, they can make necessary arrangements. Show respect and it will be shown to you.
Whether you live with a significant other, a roommate in uni housing or a whole family, compromise and communication are the keys to a happy home.
Barker, T., & Landrum, C. (2012). Office of Student Conflict Resolution, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.