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Dorm Drama: How to Solve Problems with Roommates

As you pack up and prepare to move out of your home for the first time and into your college dorm, you are likely feeling a combination of emotions. Obviously, it’s exciting. For most of you, this will be the first time you live away from your parents. It can also be a little scary. You’ll miss your parents. You hope you will do well on your own. While you’ve probably already visited the school and seen your dorm, there are still so many unknowns. For most of us, one of those biggest unknowns is your dorm roommate. Most of you will have a roommate and most of you will not really know that roommate until you actually move in with them. One thing is for certain, and you know this even from living with your family; when people live together, conflicts arise. How you deal with these conflicts will deeply effect how happy you are with your roommate and your dorm situation. Here are some tips on developing and maintaining a good relationship with your new roommate.

Be up front about what you really need.

Take a moment and think about your personality and your own habits. Can you study with music blaring or do you need silence? Do you typically wake up early? Do you stay up late? Are you a neat freak or kind of a messy person? If there is something you know is going to bug you, bring that up.

Think honestly about your environment and what you need to be successful. Be ready to talk with your roommate about it. Remember though, that this is a dialogue and encourage your roommate to be as honest and frank with you as you are with them. Compromise is the key.

When a conflict arises (and it will) take steps to resolve it in a healthy way.

If something has happened, and you are angry or upset about it, take a breath and ask yourself two questions:

What do I really want in this situation? It may feel good and even justifiable to snap at your roommate if you are angry about something, however reacting in anger is not a great way to actually resolve a conflict. Think about the resolution to the problem. What is it that you really want to see happen?

What did I do to contribute to the situation? Chances are you aren’t blameless in the conflict. The fact of the matter is, you likely did something that contributed to the current situation. In a conflict, typically both parties are angry or upset, so think about what you might have done that would have made the other upset.

Once you’ve asked yourself those two questions, you’ve developed perspective you can present your situation in an honest but healthy way.

Start with the facts. One key to not escalating a situation is to first start by explaining what happened. This is just a statement of fact, not an interpretation of those facts. For example, to say “You are being inconsiderate,” is not stating a fact. That is your interpretation based on a series of events, and can come across in an accusing or hurtful way. A better example would be to say something that describes the event, “I’d like to talk to you about something that has been bothering me. I’ve asked in the past that you help me make sure the dorm room stays clean. Yesterday when I came home from class there was an empty pizza box and your laundry was all over the floor.”

Once the facts are stated, then say how you feel. After you have stated just the facts of the situation, then you can say something like: “When I came in and saw the mess, I felt like you were not considering my feelings, or my request that the room stay clean.”

Ask for their side. This is the point where you need to remember that there are two sides of the conflict and ask for information from them. You can say something like, “Is there something I’m missing?” or “Is this accurate or am I not getting something?” This invites them to contribute to the conversation.

Both parties need to contribute to a resolution. After you have each had a chance to talk, then you can both reach a resolution together. Perhaps in the scenario described above, the roommate had meant to clean up but was running late and had to rush to class after dropping off their laundry – but had every intention of picking up when they returned from class. It’s possibly that a solution would be to leave a note in that case “Hey, I know the room is a mess, I’ll clean it right when I get out of class.”

The key is to honestly address a problem, while at the same time inviting honest input from the other person so that you can pursue a solution to the problem together. If approached this way, most of your conflicts can be resolved.

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