Roommate Survival Guide

Introduction

Living together in a roommate situation is an important part of your college experience. It takes commitment, involvement, and work to benefit from school. These same qualities are needed if you want a good, productive relationship with your roommates.


Communication

A successful roommate situation requires good communication. Take time to talk frequently to each other. Chatting with each other helps keep up the basic relationship which can provide the underpinning for a harmonious relationship. Let each other know who you are and what's happening in your life. If something in the household is bothering you (it's too noisy to sleep, someone is drinking your milk, the house/room is too messy, etc.) talk it over with your roommate(s) as soon as possible. Be honest in telling your roommate what your needs are in the household.

Keep communicating. Try to talk things out on a regular basis. There are various ways to keep in touch with your roommates:

  • hold regular household meetings (such as once a week)
  • leave notes on the refrigerator
  • schedule a "roommates only" meal together (even if you cook separately)

Conflict

Don't be dismayed if you find yourself in conflict with your roommate(s). Disagreements between people are inevitable, especially in a roommating situation where people live together and interact on a daily basis. Conflicts usually occur when changes are needed and when behaviors, thoughts and feelings need to be re-examined. Don't be afraid to confront your roommates about what is bothering you. If you know how to deal with conflict positively and productively, all involved can benefit from the situation.


Steps in Resolving Conflict

  1. Get everyone together involved in the conflict.
  2. Each roommate should take a turn describing his/her perception of the situation, how he or she feels about it and what he/she wants.
  3. Together, come to an agreement on what the conflict is.
  4. Everyone should agree to be willing to compromise to come up with a solution.
  5. Among yourselves, describe a situation that would be a compromise.
  6. Come to an agreement on the described situation.
  7. Talk about what changes will be needed to bring about the acceptable situation.
  8. Together, make a plan of action which will help achieve the desired new situation and set a time frame for these changes.Make a commitment to make the necessary changes.
  9. Set a future date to evaluate the situation and to re-negotiate any differences if necessary.

These steps sound very simple but to make them work you need to know how to fight fair. The key to successful dispute resolution is effective communication. To resolve conflict, communicate with each other on a one-to-one equal basis and avoid behavior that will break down communication.


Rules of Successful Dispute Resolution

  1. Start right. Set a time that is convenient to everyone involved and discuss the conflict. Avoid bringing up the problem when your roommate is walking out the door on the way to a mid-term exam. A better approach would be, "We need to talk about what is going on. When do you have time to work this out?" Schedule enough time so you will be able to prevent time pressure.
  2. Remember that everyone involved is an equal and should have equal rights to be heard in the discussion. To create a sense of equality, you may wish to meet at a neutral place. It may help to have everyone sit on the floor or at a table (all at the same level).
  3. Set aside your desire to "win". Winning an argument is not the same as succeeding in conflict where, together with your roommates, you will all win over the conflict situation.
  4. Each roommate should be able to talk freely about how he/she feels. Make sure that each person's ideas and feelings are clear to everyone involved. Be willing to share your feelings honestly and don't expect others to know how you feel without being told.
  5. Assume each other's perspective. Ask your roommate to reverse positions, i.e., to stand in your shoes while you stand in his/hers. This can sometimes be the most effective way of getting your point across and, contrariwise, understanding where your roommate is coming from.
  6. Avoid blaming each other. Assessing blame often has the effect of making the other party defensive and anxious to find fault with you, widening instead of narrowing the conflict.
  7. Talk about actions which can be changed rather than about personality. "You leave your books on the dining room table," can lead to a change of habit; while, "You're a lazy slob," will only lead to defensiveness and hostility. Personal attacks destroy communication of productive ideas.
  8. Don't team up with one roommate against another. This creates defensiveness in the third roommate. You are all working together for a solution.
  9. Don't psycho-analyze your roommate. Avoid "Maybe you don't realize this about yourself, but...." Most people don't like the feeling of being analyzed. Instead, take responsibility for your own feelings. A better approach might be, "What you're doing makes me feel...."
  10. If your roommates begin fighting unfairly, Take Responsibility for Getting Things Back on the Right Track. You don't have to let a confrontation go from bad to worse. Help set and hold the time of the discussion by your example.
  11. Don't put your roommates on the spot by insisting on an immediate response to your demands. If possible, give each other time (at least overnight) to think over a specific demand or suggested cause of action.

The Uncommunicative Roommate

Despite your best efforts, it may happen that a roommate simply refuses to participate in efforts to overcome the problems which divide you. Even in such unfortunate circumstances, steps can be taken to keep in check the financial and other risks which may be present and minimize the hard feelings between you.

First, the effort to communicate on your part should continue at least as to the matters relating to your joint responsibility, i.e., payment of bills, observance of rules and regulations of your apartment lease, dorm, etc.

Second, contact your landlord and/or dorm C.A. about any situation which may jeopardize your relationship with the landlord or the University.

Third, without assuming sole responsibility for rent and utilities, you should consider taking control of these accounts to insure that additional expenses are not incurred for which you can be held accountable.

Fourth, control you temper. Retaliation will not only certainly make the situation worse; it may be illegal and subject you to court action or a criminal complaint.

Finally, realize that roommates can and have survived despite not liking each other. "Getting along" in some cases means agreeing to disagree or reaching an understanding where each party goes his or her own way with minimal contact with or interference from the other.


Sometimes Outside Help is Needed

  • If you and your roommates have tried to work out your conflicts among yourselves but weren't able to get anywhere or, if you and your roommates keep confronting each other over the same issues but never make any progress, a third party may be able to mediate.
  • If you have a personal problem such as a difficult relationship with your parents or boyfriend/girlfriend that makes it hard to get along with your roommates, you can get individual help to deal with basic problems that are affecting other areas of your life.
  • If you and your roommates have a conflict over a question that none of you can answer, find someone who knows the answer who can help you resolve this conflict.

Where You Can Get Outside Help

Friends can make good listeners and good mediators.

Community Hall Advisors (CA's) and Counselors will help University housed students deal with roommate problems (available in each Hall).

Counseling & Student Development Center provides psychological, vocational and academic counseling for students (Campus Life Building, 815-753-1206).

Mental Health Program provides psychological and psychiatric counseling for students (University Health Service, 815-753-1311).

Psychology Clinic provides psychological services for the communiversity (Psych Math Building, 815-753-0591).

Counseling Laboratory provides counseling for the communiversity (Graham Hall, 815-753-0657).

Ombudsman provides mediation (Holmes Student Center, 815-753-1414).

Students' Legal Assistance provides mediation and legal information but cannot represent one student against another (Campus Life Building 120, 815-753-1701).


When a Roommate Moves Out

If you are thinking of moving out of your apartment because of roommate or other trouble, or your roommate is thinking of moving out or has moved out already, it is best to get legal assistance concerning the situation immediately. The most common legal issues presented when a roommate leaves are the respective obligations of the parties to pay rent and/or utilities and the rights of the departed roommate to sublet his or her share of the apartment. The answers to these questions depends on a variety of factors including applicable provisions in your lease, any written and/or oral agreements made by you as roommates, the reasons why the departed roommate left, etc. Generally speaking, a departed roommate continues to have the legal duty to pay his or her share of rent and utilities, but also has the legal right to sublet. Specific circumstances may change the legal position of the parties, however. Again, consult an attorney.

* Gratitude is expressed to the University of Colorado Student Union Off Campus Housing Office for use of materials.