Dirty dishes, unwanted guests, loud music one room over, a long overdue check for their share of rent — the grievances you can rack up against a roommate may seem endless. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to confront the issues that frustrate you the most.
Here are seven tactics to handle the most aggravating space-sharers without making your living situation a million times worse.
1. Resist the urge to retaliate.
Of course, it can feel tempting to dump the grimy bowl your roommate left festering on the kitchen table onto, say, his unkempt bedspread. But passive-aggressive attempts to convey your annoyance will only make things worse, Jennifer Samp, Ph.D., professor of communication studies at the University of Georgia, explains to Cosmopolitan.com. “Just like in any conflict,” she says, “retaliation makes the other person angry and intensifies whatever the original problem was.”
Rather than trying to “get back” at a roomie who’s wronged you, Samp suggests having a conversation about what the problem is.
2. Address the issue sooner than later.
Timing is everything, Samp says. The longer you wait to let your roommate know something they’re doing is seriously bugging you, the more resentment you’ll feel toward them — and the more ominous a confrontation will seem. Keep in mind, Samp adds, that a roommate can’t read your mind. (Nor, sadly, will they necessarily share your sleep schedule, social habits, or preferences for tidiness.) So unless you actually point out they’ve upset you in some way, they’ll never get a head’s up that you’d both get along better if they made some kind of change.
Best case scenario: Discuss your priorities before you agree to move in together — and try not to let an eagerness to find an apartment blind you from the red flags of a roommate you know you’d never get along with. If, for instance, you’re disgusted by smoking or you freak if you don’t have alone time, ask whether a person lights up on a regular basis or needs you to be their BFF before you agree to co-sign a lease.
3. Talk in person — not via text.
“There’s less anxiety tied to a text than an in-person conversation,” Samp says. “But successful resolutions really require a face-to-face discussion.” Too much can be read into a text, she says. Plus, digital missives can be easily ignored or just feel more flustering, especially if they’re sent while one or both roommates are at work or saddled with other real-world demands.
Rest assured that in most situations the anticipation of an actual chat is far worse than what happens once you kick it off. “A huge emotional myth most of us hang onto,” clinical psychologist Jennifer Taitz, PsyD, ABPP, tells Cosmopolitan.com, “is that you’ll compromise a relationship if you say something’s upsetting you. Actually, not saying anything is what leads to increased distress.”
4. Say it right.
A highly helpful acronym derived from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy can seriously come in handy when you’re faced with the task of confronting someone, Taitz says. It’s called “DEAR MAN” and it looks like this:
Describe the facts: i.e., “I woke up last night to the door slamming and the sound of you laughing with a guy whose voice I didn’t recognize.”Express how you feel: i.e., “I felt unsafe because I wasn’t sure what was going on and really frustrated because I needed to get up for work early and had a really important presentation to give.”Ask for what you want: i.e., “I’d really like to coordinate more in advance about bringing guests over. And it’s really important for me to be able to fall asleep by 11:00.”Reward – for the other person: i.e., “I admire how fun you can be and clearly, so many people want to spend time with you! I just want to make sure we’re both getting our needs met. And I don’t want to feel any resentment toward you.” Or, if you actually do like your roommate: “I really love living with you and it would give me more peace of mind if…”[Be] Mindful: i.e., stick to one confrontation at a time. “Don’t accuse your roommate of numerous wrongs when you’re confronting one issue,” Taitz says. Also: Try using a non-aggressive, gentle tone of voice during the process that doesn’t make your roomie feel like they’re being attacked. Putting them on the defensive only raises the tension between you, Taitz explains. End result: They become less willing to change their behavior — let alone hear your side of the story. Act Confident: i.e., don’t say, “I’m sorry, I know I suck. I bet you hate me for saying this but..” Instead, do your best to keep your chin up, be honest, and respect everyone involved! Negotiate as needed: i.e., “Would you be comfortable shooting me a text or calling to check if it’s a good night to bring a guest over? And if it’s after 11:00, do you think you’d be able to close the door quietly or be mindful of keeping your voice down?”
5. Repeat if necessary.
If your goal is to get your roommate to STFU, fork over his portion of the electric bill, or stop bringing sketchy girls home, and he just isn’t getting it, you may need to reiterate your request more than once during the first confrontation. Or you might need to bring up the issue again at a later date — say, when the both of you aren’t exhausted from a hectic week, hangry, or embroiled in an unrelated personal drama.
6. Adjust the intensity of your requests accordingly.
Giving others the benefit of the doubt is often a good way to go about building relationships. But if gentleness isn’t helping you get your point across — or your roommate refuses to adapt his behavior in a way that makes your living situation bearable — increase the firmness of how you ask for what you want, Taitz says.
Example: “I’ve mentioned this before and I’m starting to get frustrated because I feel like you aren’t meeting me halfway. I really need your help here if we’re going to live together.”
7. Know when to bounce — or kick a derelict roommate out.
There are some people who just will not alter their behavior no matter how skillfully you try to negotiate with them. If the above strategies don’t lower the tension in your shared living situation, it may be time to look for a different living situation stat. (Or, if you’re a lease-holder and your roommate’s crossed any legal lines, coordinate with a landlord to get them out.) Taitz says that if the place you come home to at the end of each day doesn’t feel like a refuge, you’re doing your sanity — and possibly your health — a serious disservice by sticking around.
Culled from Cosmopolitan