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Roommate Resolutions: Solving Conflict Between Two Opposing Sides

By Sydney Meyer
On September 14, 2018

Photo by Bruna Pacheco

He leaves his socks all over the floor. She wakes up at the crack of dawn to practice Hatha Yoga. He never replaces the toilet paper roll. She snores. Let’s face it: Life with a roommate is not easy. Taking two people from completely separate worlds, cramming them together in a room the size of a broom closet and expecting them to start singing kumbaya does not sound reasonable. Why is this a common expectation? What are we learning from this?

“It’s important to be with a roommate because … you’re forced into a new situation, forced to adapt – you’re forced to learn and to grow and be open to the person you’re rooming with,” says Joe Corbin, Bennett RA. “So it’s really a good way to be more open-minded, to be more accepting.”

Solving conflict is important – that’s why they teach it to you in college. If you learn to work through relational issues in this part of your life, it will continue to serve you in the future as you juggle disputes in the office, aggravating coworkers or finicky bosses.

However, along with growth comes pain, and learning to live with another person is no exception. College can be overwhelming, and you shouldn’t have to add daily arguments with a roommate to your already-overfilled plate. Navigating a conflict is a necessary life-skill. Luckily, there are effective ways to do it.

According to Corbin, one of the best strategies to preventing conflict is creating a roommate contract. Outlining expectations and rules right at the beginning of the relationship can be a complete lifesaver when it comes to mediating conflict between two people sharing the same space.

Another method is to see your roommate as a human being. This may be difficult depending on their hygiene habits, but it’s important to try.

“You really want to learn about your roommate. ... Not just knowing about them, but continuing to learn about them,” says Shannon Dyer, communications professor at Ottawa University. “Continuing to ask them questions even when you think you’ve already kinda stopped and categorized them and moved on. It’s not that simple.”

Dyer says that oftentimes a source of conflict can be explained by the attribution error. This is a concept that occurs when an individual blames another for either their personality or for the circumstance surrounding the altercation.

“If you’re like me, then I look at the situation and say, ‘I wonder why you did that,’” Dyer says. “Or if you’re different from me, then you’re just that kind of person – it’s a characteristic.”

Grounding the source of the conflict in circumstance can lead to a quicker conflict-resolution because you are viewing the issue as something that was wrong in the environment, rather than as a fundamental issue with the person. Switching to the situational view allows you to stop categorizing the individual as a negative person in general and allows you to focus on the reason behind their actions.

“Be kind and invite them into your mental space for friends,” Dyer suggests. “You’ll have a better shot of resolving the conflict if you do that.”

Roommates truly are important. When you’re on a new campus and enduring a new environment, you can feel very untethered and overwhelmed. Roommates can be like a safe-guard against feelings of loneliness or seclusion.

“We want to make sure that there’s somebody there to keep tabs on each other, as roommates, Corbin says. “Because if someone is alone in their bedroom and they’re not doing so hot … then it’s always important to make sure that there’s somebody there to do something in case something happens.”

When you open your mind up to viewing your roommate as a person with a life and a story, or as a safety net in case you are struggling, you’re more likely to be more interested in their side of the story. 

“If you ever get there, the problem tends to solve itself,” Dyer says. “It’s not just about the conflict, it’s about the relationship – you have to know the person and what motivates them.”

Respect for your roommate is key. And yet, as Dyer says, it’s a concept we don’t realize we’re neglecting. You can tell yourself that you respect the other person all you want, but if there’s the smallest level of contempt present in the relationship, there will continue to be problems.

Sometimes conflicts are just too big to solve. That is where it becomes important to contact someone who can help address the problem, like an RA or the student housing office.

 “It’s so important to reach out. … That way, you can be connected to someone who can help mediate the situation,” Corbin says.

Conflict does have its place in this world. Without conflict, there would be no growth. There wouldn’t be anyone opening your eyes to new world views or forcing you to learn to navigate differences in opinion. No one would ask the questions or make the compromises that lead to change.

So, as students continue this uphill journey through the semester, remember that roommates are respectable people, too. And, daunting as it may seem, it’s important to view their obnoxious snoring or obsessive cleaning as products of their environment, rather than personal flaws.

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