Student Life

How to Help Your Student Combat Roommate Problems

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

Crafting a harmonious roommate relationship can be a struggle no matter how similar your student and their roommate are. Problems are bound to pop up, whether it’s a difference in values or in the layout of the room.

For most college students, it is their first time sharing a room with someone who isn’t family. It’s a lot easier to confront an annoying family member than it is an acquaintance with whom your student will have to cohabitate for an entire school year, so what are they supposed to do when problems inevitably arise?

Here is how to help your student handle roommate problems.

Lay down ground rules

The best way to resolve problems between roommates is to quash them before they crop up. As silly as a roommate agreement might seem, encourage your student to lay down ground rules with their new roommate.

Are friends allowed to spend the night in the room? Can snacks be shared? When are the lights going off? Any potential issue should be discussed, and once the agreement is made, both your student and their roommate are going to feel a lot more comfortable and aware of their boundaries.

Ignore minor issues

Frankly, most issues your student might have with a roommate aren’t worth fighting over. Of course, your student’s reaction should be based on the severity of the issue, but you should generally advise them to ignore whatever behavior is irritating them.

Your student might be a neat freak and their roommate a slob, but if their roommate is keeping the mess confined to their half of the room, then your student shouldn’t say anything. Whatever is frustrating them, assuming it’s a fairly small-scale issue, remind them to look at the big picture. Do they really want to risk a falling out with their roommate over a minor behavior, especially one that doesn’t affect them in any real way?

Ignoring something frustrating can be a lot harder when the problem is grounded in the personalities or beliefs of your student and their roommate. Again, encourage your student to look at things from a different perspective. Is the issue at hand really important enough to create a divide over?

If one of them is a staunch conservative and the other passionately liberal, isn’t it better to avoid the discussion of politics altogether if it’s going to consistently end in hurt feelings? Neither of them will be able to change the other’s mind, so it’s best to just agree to disagree.

In any situation, generally, where your student’s beliefs conflict with those of their roommate, it’s best to let things go and move on.

Communicate in passing

If your student is bothered by something that is pretty small and easily fixed, it’s best to communicate this in passing. If their roommate is, say, strewing their dirty clothes across your student’s side of the room, encourage your student to speak up about it.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s such a minor issue that you should remind your student not to make it into something bigger than it is. They don’t need to sit down and have a long heart-to-heart over it (unless your student’s roommate is consistently crossing boundaries). Your student briefly mentioning to their roommate that there is something bothering them will usually lead to the roommate immediately apologizing and ceasing whatever activity was frustrating your student.

Set up a conversation

If there is a much bigger issue that needs to be discussed, encourage your student to set up a time with their roommate to go over it. Having them mention a problem between classes, when there is little time to discuss it and stress levels are running high, is probably not a good idea. Your student should find a time when they know their roommate will not be particularly busy, and reserve at least an hour or so to go over whatever has caused the rift in their relationship.

It’s best if your student is firm but understanding, and doesn’t go out of their way to make their roommate feel attacked. Remind them that their roommate deserves a chance to give their side of the story and air any complaints they may have.

If the conversation doesn’t go well, or if your student is afraid of confronting their roommate on their own, suggest that they seek out their Residential Assistant or whatever their college’s equivalent is. Having another student in the room, especially one with authority, tends to keep things civil. As a neutral third party, they are likely to come up with compromises that neither your student nor their roommate would have considered, while also helping your student and their roommate to see each other’s side of the story.

Plus, your student and their roommate are more likely to reach an agreement with a mediator present, assuming talking on their own would not or did not work. They’re more likely to keep to that agreement, too, since there is a third party who can hold them both accountable.

Maintaining a healthy roommate relationship is essential, but it can be tough. It requires both your student and their roommate to work together and forge a stronger relationship. But your student cannot just expect problems to work themselves out if they want to have a better relationship with their roommate.

Encourage your student to be patient, communicate, and above all, to respect their roommate.

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