How to Live in Harmony with Your Roommate

This story was featured in Horizons, a special edition of The Crimson White for freshmen and transfer students. Horizons can be found on newsstands across campus, or online here.

Whether in a suite or a traditional dorm, incoming college students will face trials and tribulations while trying to create harmonious relationships with their roommates. For all those awkward moments and conflicts, Alicia Browne, director of housing administration, and Angel Shadd, a resident advisor and first-year graduate student in business administration, said the conflict can always be traced to a lack of communication.  

Browne said disagreements are inevitable when people live together, but significant issues arise when there’s no clear, effective communication about important topics, like shared items, cleanliness or sleep schedules. When moving in with someone, she said it’s essential to set boundaries and communicate expectations for each other.

When setting those boundaries and expectations, Shadd said, roommates should be honest and communicate their feelings. To aid in solidifying honest expectations and boundaries, the housing department provides a roommate agreement to keep each other accountable. Though the form is not a requirement for students, it has proven helpful. 

“I absolutely encourage people to fill one out, because that forces you to talk about issues before you’re arguing … and it gives you a written record to go back to,” Browne said. 

Sometimes conflicts are unavoidable, but those problems can be solved through active and effective communication. Greg Vander Wal, the executive director of the UA Counseling Center, said when it comes to conflict management, both parties should be open and honest in their description of the problem while also giving the other space to share their perspective. 

“If you go into trying to manage a conflict decided that you’re right, and you just need the other person to understand you, that’s [going to] likely lead to a worse outcome than if you go in willing to respect the other person’s perspective and asking for that same respect for your own perspective,” Vander Wal said.  

He said it’s also important to take the time to clearly define the problem, because often “conflicts are happening because of two different perspectives that aren’t on the same page.”

Once the problem has been identified, roommates should work toward solving it in a mutually beneficial way. Still, in particularly heated situations, Vander Wal suggested stepping back for a moment.  

Regardless of how roommates decide to handle their issues, Browne said effective communication should always be done in person and not through text, sticky notes or social media.   

“When I talk to students about communicating, I really mean the kind that can be a little uncomfortable, but it’s usually the most effective way to get information out,” Browne said. “And that’s to actually sit down with someone and talk through your issues.”   

Addressing problems face-to-face is an important step in resolving issues, but Vander Wal said he understands it isn’t an easy feat. He said people are sometimes hesitant to communicate because they believe they have to communicate in the “perfect way” to achieve a response that’s both placating and helpful, but in the end, no one can control someone’s reaction.   

“If we’re trying to control the other person’s response, we’re never going to get there. We have to recognize that all we have is our own choices and our own contributions to this conversation, and the other person’s response is not in our control,” Vander Wal said.  

For those who are inexperienced, uncomfortable or weary of potential negative responses from their roommate, Vander Wal suggests building confidence by practicing, because the only way to get past that initial discomfort is leaning into it.    

“And even if it doesn’t go perfectly, [you] can do it,” he said. 

If practicing doesn’t work, Browne suggested going to RAs for help from a neutral third party. 

“I think before it gets really unpleasant or you say things to your roommates that are going to be hard to take back, get in a third party, and in a residence hall, your RA is absolutely trained for just that kind of conversation,” Browne said. “[They] can really help you talk logically and clearly without being angry.”

Destini Jones, a junior majoring in kinesiology, said despite the conflicts that arise, she advises students to stay hopeful and remember to cut their roommates some slack, “because everyone is coming into their own.”  

And as students try to come into their own, Vander Wal said it’s important to remember that college as a whole is a transition that won’t be perfect.  

“I think we need to be really flexible with our expectations, you know. If we expect it to be always awesome all the time, and then it’s not, that can be a hard thing to manage if we’re not willing to say, ‘You know what, some days might be difficult. Some classes might be hard. Some things may not go my way, and that’s normal. That’s okay,’” he said.