Leanna Stockard, MA, AMFT

A friend once told me, “I feel like I need couples therapy… but with my roommate.” Although she initially meant it as a joke, my friend felt she was no longer on the same page with how her home should operate, and what she began to describe was her growing resentment for her roommate. She was not sure how to approach her feelings without causing a conflict. I began to recognize these thoughts and feelings are comparable to topics in my work as a couple’s therapist.

Whether you are sharing space with a partner, a roommate, or multiple people, living with others is not always easy. Of course, there are those rare situations where one just automatically “vibes” with the people they live with. They share the same values, load the dishwasher the same way, have similar cleaning schedules, and rarely have an issue with one another. For others, however, living with someone might require more work in the way of communication and compromise.

Rules & Expectations

To avoid increasing resentment for your roommate, it is critical to determine what your rules and expectations are for your living space. Having an understanding of expectations surrounding cleaning schedules, paying bills, and sharing food can reduce resentment. When determining your expectations and compromises within your comfort zone, you may find there are some expectations with no room for compromise. These expectations are considered your “non-negotiables.” Non-negotiables are the most important factors to communicate in order to avoid the risk of conflict. If your expectations and non-negotiables are not communicated with your roommate, it will be increasingly difficult for them to meet them.

The Conversation

After you have determined what your expectations are for your living space, it is time to communicate them with your roommate. When approaching the conversation, remember that your roommate will also be bringing their own set of rules, expectations, and non-negotiables to the conversation. If this topic seems “out of nowhere,” your roommate may get defensive. If this is the case, it will be essential for you to recognize their feelings, while also not being defensive yourself. To avoid conflict, present your rules and expectations utilizing “I” statements, without criticism, and practice respect and understanding in regards to your roommate’s perspective. The conversation may be tough, but as long as you are respectful and considerate, there is a greater chance for your thoughts to be internalized positively. After expectations have been discussed and agreed upon, it is helpful to discuss how you will manage them when they are violated.

Managing Violations

Often times when a roommate violates an expectation, most just attempt to “get over it.” Picking battles is an understandable strategy, especially if violations are a rarity. However, if violations become frequent, “getting over it” may be what leads to growing resentment. If you have not discussed how to manage violations, I recommend utilizing basic conflict resolution, as well as skills used in the conversation about expectations. First, it is important for you to recognize and cope with your feelings towards the violation. It is best to present the situation using “I” statements, free of criticism, and this could be difficult if you have unresolved feelings about previous violations. Second, I recommend presenting to your roommate the most recent violation and work together on how you can solve the issue from this point on. Lastly, FORGIVE! Your roommate is human! Allow space for your roommate to make errors, and allow space to correct them.

If your roommate relationship is struggling, it may be helpful to collaborate with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to get matched with one of our many skilled clinicians!