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A roommate getting passive-aggressive can make you want to move provinces away. You may be familiar with sneak attacks by roommates, like procrastinating on emptying the trash, the silent treatment, and snarky texts. “People tend to avoid conflict because confrontation makes them uncomfortable or because they are scared to disappoint others by expressing frustration,” says Dr. Rachel Toledano, a relationship expert and psychotherapist in Montreal, Quebec. “However, this behaviour can lead to misunderstandings. It is important to communicate directly in order to resolve issues.” Here’s how to cope with the passive-aggressive roommate in your life—and how not to be the passive-aggressive one in someone else’s.

Chore wars

Example: “My roommate liked to put the dirty dishes on my other roommate’s bed when he felt they weren’t going to be cleaned. He also liked to leave notes everywhere.”
—Liam F.*, fourth-year undergraduate, University of New Brunswick 

How to react

  • If the “house rules” say it’s your week to do the dishes and you honestly can’t, give your roommate a heads up.
  • “Talk to your roommate directly about how their behaviour is impacting you,” says Dr. Toledano. Find the right time.

How to prevent it

  • Don’t gang up with one roommate against another. This could make the isolated roommate defensive and drive them to acts of sabotage.
  • Don’t try to “win.” It’s more important to move past this and stay civil.
  • When talking with your roommate, use LARA:
    • Listen and keep eye contact.
    • Acknowledge: repeat their statements back to them.
    • Respond: address their concerns.
    • Add important points that haven’t been raised (e.g., a mutually agreed-upon solution).

+ Vancouver Island University’s tips on communication in conflict


Borrowing without asking

Example: “When I noticed [my roommates] have taken my food, I take some of theirs without asking.”
 —Sarah J.*, third-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland 

How to react

  • “Call a house meeting. Express what you feel and how their behaviour is [bothering] you,” says Dr. Toledano.
  • Don’t get personal. Calling someone insane or uptight may seem true, but no good will come of it.
  • The more you practice emotional self-control, the easier you can stay calm.

How to prevent it

  • Do you share everything or just the rent? Talk, so you know where they stand. Using stuff without permission can feel invasive to your roommate.
  • If your roommate has a “borrowing” problem, consider moving your stuff into your room. Respectfully explain why.
  • In some cases, let it slide—like if your roommate occasionally swipes a squirt of ketchup.

+ Find inspiration in Pinterest boards on roommate organization


Dodging the bill

Example: “Changing the password on the router when they have not paid their half of the internet bill.”
—Ben S.*, fourth-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology

How to react?

  • Explain that you don’t currently have funds; say when you can pay up.
  • Even if someone’s shopping spree means they can’t cover rent, ridiculing their purchases won’t fix things. Talk and plan.

How to prevent it

  • “A written agreement should be created prior to your move-in date detailing what happens if a roommate does not fulfill their financial responsibilities,” says Richards-Smith.
  • Most payments are due at the same time each month. Make a schedule, share it, and collect money a week early so there’s no last-minute scramble.
  • Communicate about anticipated cash flow problems.

+ To share money quickly, try the Venmo app

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