With median rent prices rising and incomes remaining flat, living with roommates well into your 30s and beyond is the new normal. And, while it can be nice to have someone to share the financial burden with, roommate strife is real. This is why it's important to know how to diplomatically bring up problems with your roommates so you don't end up in tough situation. As someone who has lived with 14 different roommates since I moved out of my mom's house, I've finally learned how to navigate this whole roommate thing — but not without some kerfuffles along the way.
Literally everyone who has lived with a roommate has a horror story, and while not all bad roommates can be avoided, there are some ways to terminate your household tension before it becomes a real problem. The best way to make sure you don't end up having to have problematic roommate conversations is to do some work up front to make sure you and your housemates are compatible. If your home is your sanctuary, and you like things Monica Geller-level clean, then living with someone who throws food and garbage on the floor (yes, I lived with this person) is going to be a total nightmare.
If you do have a problem with one of your roommates, communication is key to successfully solving the problem. "Most roommate conflicts are the result of miscommunication or, in some cases, a total lack of communication. If you can communicate effectively, it will be much easier to develop a comfortable living environment for yourself and your roommates," St. Norbert College explained on its website. Don't be passive aggressive by leaving sticky notes, sending emails, or texting when you likely see that person every day. Instead, ask if you can have an in-person conversation.
While it's best to decide before you live with someone who will pay what bill, what the rules are on having guests over, and how clean you want to keep the apartment, most of us learn the importance of these conversations after a few bad experiences. If you skipped this step, all is not lost: If you haven't communicated your preferences with your roommate, they probably have no idea that they're doing things to bug you. What's more, you're probably driving them bananas, too.
Start the conversation by letting your roommate know that you care about them and about your home, and you want living together to be the best experience possible for both of you. Don't approach your roommate when you're angry as that's going to put them on the defensive, and they'll be less likely to consider your concerns if they feel attacked. Don't accuse your roommate of anything. Instead, use "I" statements like: "I feel really frustrated when I wash the dishes and then I come home and there are dirty dishes in the sink. I would really appreciate it if we could come together on how to keep the kitchen clean." By using "I" statements, you're expressing how you feel instead of placing blame on the other person.
While some roommates might think it's no big deal to bring a Tinder date home every night, other people are going to be really upset about having strangers over on the reg and having their sleep disrupted. Remaining tight-lipped and ignoring the problem won't make it go away, which is why the University of Michigan suggests something called the LARA method to its students to resolve roommate conflicts. Even if you're not in college, if you have a roommate, the LARA method is a good place to start a conversation. L stands for listen: "In this stage of LARA, active listening needs to be practiced, by maintaining eye contact (if culturally appropriate), nodding your head, and showing that you are listening."
A lot of problems can be diffused when people feel that they are being heard. If your roommate brings up a problem with you, listen to what they have to say instead of defaulting to being defensive. A stands for affirm or acknowledge. Aside from being listened to, everyone wants their feelings to be acknowledged, and this is an important step in resolving conflict. R stands for respond. When the person who is talking is finished, and feels both heard and acknowledged, the other person can respond. A stands for add. This is when either of you can add to the conversation to work toward a solution.
After you and your roommate have discussed the problem(s), work together to agree how to move forward. In a shared living space, you can't expect the people you're living with to acquiesce to all of your preferences. Instead, you need to work out a compromise you can all live with. If the problem is serious, like your roommate doesn't pay their rent, or comes home late at night and leaves the door not only unlocked, but wide open so anyone can waltz right in (this happened on the daily to a friend of mine), and the behavior doesn't change after multiple conversations, it might be time to consider that perhaps your living situation isn't a great fit.
If the issue is something small such as how clean you want to keep the apartment, it's unrealistic to expect a messy roommate to suddenly become neat overnight. If having a messy apartment makes you anxious, you may be able to agree that the messy person confines their tornado to their room, or you can even decide to all throw in some money to hire a monthly cleaning service. The bottom line is that everyone is going to have to give a little in order to foster a peaceful living environment. The most important thing to remember is that letting minor issues accumulate and build up could result in one of you unleashing anger that doesn't match the situation.
"The odds are the conflict will not get resolved with the added time. One roommate may be too shy to bring up the issue, and one roommate may dominate the conversation if the issue is brought up, or the issue will just fester until one roommate explodes with emotions," the University of Michigan noted on its website.
This is why the LARA method is so effective; it allows everyone equal opportunity to listen and respond. What's more, part of adulting is having adult conversations, so try not to let anger and emotions build up. Being direct, but kind, can go a long way toward diffusing a tense situation, which is the ultimate goal. Because, let's face it, moving sucks.