College Roommate Conflicts

Roommate relationships can be challenging, but there are many rewards to a great relationship.
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There is perhaps no college relationship more fraught with ambivalence than the relationship between college roommates. When relations are good, they can be wonderful; your roommate can be a ready-made best friend with whom you do and share everything. But when relations turn sour, you can end up stuck with a resentful and hostile resident who can make it impossible to sleep, study or do much else. There's no guarantee that you'll love your roommate, but there are ways you can minimize the risk of conflict and prevent disagreements from spiraling out of control.

1 Common Problems

College roommates, particularly freshmen, usually have limited experience living on their own and little grasp of how their own habits affect others. Conflicts frequently center around differences in lifestyle such as cleaning, noise, sleeping and visitors. Issues of values can be another problem. One roommate might be uncomfortable with overnight guests of the opposite sex, for example. The stress of having little privacy can, in itself, lead to roommate conflicts even among roommates who like each other and might otherwise get along.

2 Preventing Problems

Talking about goals and interests is a great start, and discussing ideas about how to live prior to moving in together can help you get off on the right foot. If you can, call or email your roommate before you move in and ask about how you can compromise regarding space, time and noise. Show interest in your roommate and ask about his life, interests and friends. Knowing a little about your roommate before you move in can give you a good idea of ways to improve your relationship.

3 Building Relationships

After you and your roommate move in together, avoid making snap judgments. If your roommate is very different from you, ask about your roommate's values rather than assuming you won't get along. Spend time together in a comfortable, neutral location, and don't force the relationship. Trying to spend all of your time together or share all of your interests can often be a recipe for cramped quarters and invasion of privacy.

4 Mediating Conflicts

If you run into a conflict with your roommate, try addressing the issue in a direct, nonconfrontational manner. Ask what you can do to remedy the problem and if there's some way to compromise so that you both get what you need. If this fails, consider talking to your resident adviser or seeking help from the counseling center at your school; many universities offer mediation services for conflicts. If your roommate becomes truly intolerable, you might need to move out, but be prepared to make accommodations in your own behavior with your next roommate. Otherwise, you might have the same problems all over.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.