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Whether you’re a night owl living with an early bird or a neatnik whose roommate’s idea of cleaning is to relocate the dust bunnies, sharing space with someone isn’t always easy. There are times when schedules conflict or habits don’t mesh.

But the success of a shared living situation is determined by how you navigate the challenges and learn to compromise, not necessarily by your ability to avoid them. In fact, roommate challenges can be productive and lead to a higher level of understanding, which means the early bird and the night owl can coexist.

What Are Your Habits?

Before getting frustrated with someone else, think about which of your preferences are real needs and which are simply habits. For many students, living with roommates at school is the first time they’ve had to share their personal space. Habits and schedules are often subconscious, based on personal preference, and have likely never been problematic.

Travis Myers, a resident life advisor at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, says, “Sharing a smaller space can be difficult when, for most of your life, you never had to share with a family member. Understanding personal space, boundaries, and personality types is a huge part of community living, and accepting differences by respecting each other truly helps in these situations.”

According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, 60 percent of the respondents listed noise as the most common cause of a conflict between themselves and their roommates. Other major concerns are privacy and differences in waking and sleeping schedules.

So how can you keep both yourself and your roommate happy when you don’t see eye to eye?

Problem Prevention

The best way to deal with conflicts is to prevent them from occurring. There are a few things you can do at the beginning of the year to make living with any roommate easier. Here are some tips:

  • Have an honest conversation about your schedules and habits.
  • Make a verbal agreement regarding “room rules,” or use an actual contract form.
  • Set up ground rules for things such as having friends over, sharing food, and quiet hours.
  • Arrange to have regular check-ins about how things are going. This way there will be designated time to air concerns and figure out solutions-before there’s a blowup.

Communication Is Key

Melissa S., a sophomore at Concordia University in Quebec, Canada, isn’t a morning person. When her roommate woke early, she often made a lot of noise. “I couldn’t get enough sleep and I felt tired and cranky all the time. It was affecting my academics and my relationship with my roommate,” she says.

Being considerate is a good starting point for living with roommates. In order to be mindful of your differences in schedule and habits, you have to talk with one another.

For Melissa, simple and direct communication helped. She explains, “I [approached] my roommate with the problem and explained to her how it was affecting me. I realized that she didn’t even know her actions were causing me discomfort. She apologized and vowed to try and make as little noise as she could when she woke up and I bought a pair of ear plugs and a sleep mask to help me sleep better.”

As with Melissa’s situation, there are usually actions both you and your roommate can take to resolve the conflict. Communication opens doors for compromise.

Communication 101
In order to make your roommate aware that something’s not working and you both need to figure out a resolution, it’s important to communicate effectively. Here are some tips:

  • Be calm. Remember that your roommate might not know how his or her habits are affecting you.
  • Be courteous while concisely describing the issue and giving an example.
  • Use “I” language. Instead of saying, “You are noisy,” try, “I can’t fall asleep if music is playing.”
  • Offer a solution that you think will work for both of you. Compromise between your needs and your roommate’s. Allow him or her to offer suggestions as well.

Denise B., a recent graduate from the University of Tennessee at Martin, suggests, “When talking with your roommate, don’t have the attitude that he or she is the problem. You might be doing something offensive to him or her that you’re not aware of.”

Unbiased Help

Sometimes a situation requires guidance from others. Eric L., a freshman at Colorado Technical University in Colorado Springs, loved to play music in his room and didn’t realize how this was affecting his roommate. He says, “My roommate isn’t as crazy about music as I am. Recently I realized that he was spending less and less time in the room. I found out that he was upset about my music-playing habit, so I reached out to him.”

If you find yourself in a situation where tension is high and one-on-one communication is difficult, find someone to help you talk things through. Residential advisors are trained to help, so don’t wait until things are in crisis.

Lindsay Pratt, a residential advisor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says, “I find the number-one reason why roommates get frustrated with each other is because they don’t let the other know how they’re affected by [differing] habits.” She suggests consulting residential life staff to ease conflicts and encourage compromise.

Living with a person who has different habits and customs can be an educational experience. Remember that your own behavior affects your roommate as well. Open communication can prevent roommate conversations from becoming roommate crises, and with a little work and understanding, even opposites can share space successfully.

Take Action!

  • Treat your roommate with respect and courtesy.
  • Think about how your behavior might affect your roommate.
  • Create a verbal or formal roommate contract.
  • Address concerns head on.
  • Contact the residential life office if you need help.

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