Help! My roommate is making life difficult!

Have you ever wondered what bathrooms, kitchens, and indoor temperature have in common? If you guessed they are the most common causes of a roommate conflict, you are right. Fortunately, these issues are easily solved if, and only if, everyone is willing to work on the problems. Some will want conflicts solved for the sake of peace and others will want them solved because it is cheaper than moving and going through the hassle of finding a new place to live or finding someone to take over their lease.


Often in a conflict, there is only one person in the situation willing to address the problem. Usually, it is the person who is the most bothered by the mess or uncleanliness of the apartment. However, this person, though bothered must be extra careful as to how to approach the problem. If you begin yelling at the other person, calling them names, or blaming them for making your life miserable, you will not solve anything. In fact, these behaviors only make things worse.

Here is a better approach. Start off with an invitation to talk. “I would like to talk about how our apartment is running. When would be a good time for all of us to get together?” Begin the conversation with an “I feel…” approach. “I feel upset when I see dirty dishes all over the kitchen. There is no place for me to cook.” Or, “I feel revolted when I use the bathroom because hair is all over and it has begun to clog the sink up.” If you tell them, “You are so sloppy and uncaring about how anyone else feels,” the conversation has ended and nothing will be resolved except the resolve to fight back. This is not productive.

Next, ask to understand their perspective. “Would you help me understand your perspective on this problem?” When the roommate answers back with excuses for their actions, restate or summarize what they said. “I can see you have been under a lot of stress lately.” Perhaps they will tell you that no one ever taught them how to clean or maybe growing up, they had others clean for them and they look at cleaning beneath them. When you really understand them better you will begin to understand what is at the heart of the problem. When they have finished talking you may describe how you feel about the situation. Remember, no name calling, interrupting, or put downs. You must assume the attitude of humility, seeking to learn.

Finally, all the roommates involved should suggest solutions, not just the person who is bothered. “What are your ideas how to solve this problem?” Everyone is free to suggest, but the solution should be agreed on by everyone. You can even talk about what if the plan does not work or what to do if some neglect the agreement. If everyone suggests solutions, and all agree to them, all the roommates will be much more likely to participate in the plan. Most of the time, the solutions will demand everyone compromise a little bit. The last tip; it may be useful to write up the agreement and post it. That will end future arguments as to what was agreed on.

During a conflict resolution class, I took at the Kansas State University, the professor, who was not particularly religious, suggested that some conflicts are so difficult, one should pray for God’s help. I think this sounds like a good idea. What do you think?


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