Room for respect

Navigating the minefield of living with those who aren’t our loved ones takes consideration and compromise

Special to The TribuneJanuary 15, 2013 


The vast majority of us spend some portion of our lives in the role of roommate. We may be in a multi-level dorm on a college campus or sharing a house with several others at the start of our careers. Whatever the constellation, we’re living with at least one other person to whom we’re not related.

Even though it’s a common living arrangement, relationships with fellow roomies can be precarious. Sometimes we’re total BFFs and keep in contact long after we’ve moved out.

At other times we become mortal enemies, bickering fiercely about cleanliness, girlfriends, pets, music and noise.

Being a roommate is a complex affiliation. Take the lack of hierarchy, for example. In many living arrangements, no one’s officially in charge. All the roomies pay equal rent and therefore have equal say. As a result, chaos and anarchy rule the day. No one can control what another person does. So they’re basically powerless if another roomie leaves spoiled food in the refrigerator or smokes cigarettes in her bedroom.

Roommates don’t feel the need to please each other. They have no vested interest in making things work. When we’re living with a love interest, we have a higher motive: We make nice so the relationship thrives. If we’re emotionally detached about our other boarders, we don’t care what they feel about us.

Roommates are generally in a transitional stage of their lives. They’re in school, new to the community or between jobs. They haven’t put down roots. Commitment’s not currently on their agenda. Unfortunately, their behavior often reflects it. They don’t care if the lawn dies or they clog up the drains. It’s not their house. They’ll be gone by summer. Someone else will clean up after they’re out.

Finally, roommates can have a “me-first” persona. They’re often unattached. Their immediate needs are at the forefront of their minds. They’re not inherently team players because, hey, they’re not part of a team.

This doesn’t mean some roommates aren’t fantastic. Many are thoughtful. But whether roommates are saints or holy terrors, they’re all a part of the mix. The key is to survive this near-universal stage of our lives.


• Pick wisely. You can’t always choose who you’ll live with. Sometimes roommates are prearranged. When you do have a say, opt for roomies who are neat and responsible and who share similar living styles. This may take time and effort. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

• Make house rules. Decide up front how and when you’ll do chores or when the rent is due. You needn’t have tons of regulations. Just enough to help things run smoothly. You might even write them down and have fellow roomies sign them. That way everyone understands what’s expected.

• Don’t let problems pile up. Be willing to discuss little annoyances before they become major blow-ups. Respectfully state what’s eating at you, then look for ways to resolve the problem.

• You don’t have to be best friends. Roomies are people you live with. It’s fine to socialize with others. Just be respectful and considerate when you’re back in your shared space.

• Respect privacy and boundaries. Decide which areas are common and which are yours alone. Even if you and your roommate share a single room, you are each entitled to your half. Never invade a roommate’s privacy. And do your best to give them emotional space. Your sensitivity makes even the smallest quarters seem more livable.

• Compromise. Be willing to consider others’ wants and needs. Hopefully, they’ll be equally responsive to yours. The simple willingness to seek détente can bring the hottest tempers under control.

• Be considerate of others’ schedules. You’ll undoubtedly have different activities throughout the day. Sometimes your schedules will conflict. Be willing to alter your time frame as needed, such as studying at the library if the house is noisy, or not playing loud music while your roommate is asleep. Your gesture will be much appreciated.

• You can always make changes. Try as you might, some roommates don’t work out. Don’t worry. Move out or find another. This is a transitional time in your life.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit

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