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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 contradict or habits don’t mesh.

But the success of a shared living situation is determined by how you learn to compromise and navigate the challenges,  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 possibly not been problematic in the past.

Travis Myers, a residence life advisor at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland, 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, 64 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

Mellissa S., a second-year student at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, 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, you have to talk with one another.

For Mellissa, 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 Mellissa’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 actions  are affecting you.
  • Be courteous while concisely describing the issue, and give 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.

John A., a first-year student at College of the North Atlantic in St. John’s, Newfoundland, suggests, “Avoid pointing fingers. Try to focus on what’s bothering you rather than playing the blame game.”

Unbiased Help

Sometimes a situation requires guidance from others. Kelsey B., a first-year student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, loves to hang out with her friends in her room and didn’t realize how this was affecting her roommate. She says, “My roommate and I have a lot of mutual friends, but for a while, our timing was off. I would have people over whenever she was present because I thought she would like to hang out with them too. I didn’t realize that I was ruining her alone time.”

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. Residence advisors are trained to help, so don’t wait until things are in crisis.

“I find the number one reason why roommates get frustrated with each other is because they don’t let each other know how they’re affected by [differing] habits.” says Myers.  He suggests consulting residence 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 behaviour 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 behaviour might affect your roommate.
  • Create a verbal or formal roommate contract.
  • Address concerns head on.
  • Contact the residence life office if you need help.

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