Cohabitation – More than Just Living Together

Returning students are often excited about the prospect of choosing a roommate or housemates rather than having someone randomly assigned like their first-year. While some students find their first-year roommate to be a perfect match, it is normal and expected to have a few bumps in the road when living with another person in such close quarters. Choosing a roommate or housemates is an exciting benefit of being an older student.

Finding the Right Match

Your best friend might be your perfect roommate. Then again, maybe not. Returning students often find that choosing a roommate was easy; living with them may be another story. Friendships often form over shared interests and activities, which do not always reflect shared hygiene or cleanliness preferences, sleep patterns, or personal space needs. Roommate conflicts (in suites, rooms, or houses) most often boil down to a mismatch of taste and preferences exacerbated by poor communication. The most important first step to finding the right match is having a conversation about your tastes and preferences before the conflict gets too unmanageable levels.

Conflict is a natural part of life, yet many of us are uncomfortable with conflict. Roommates often wait until they are at the breaking point before discussing expectations around noise level and sleep patterns, or what is acceptable as “clean” for common areas. Once the conflict has reached the point one roommate is ready to move, it’s often hard to mediate, and all parties may feel unsatisfied with the resolution. Moving out isn’t always an option, and even when it is, the options for where to live and with whom may not be ideal mid-year.

Whether you are choosing to live on campus or off next year, Residence Life encourages you to think about the following:

  • What do you need to feel rested and able to complete your academic pursuits? What kind of environment is conducive to this?
  • What compromises are you able to make to meet your needs? Headphones, a sleep mask, temperature of the room, etc.
  • How would you communicate your needs to your roommate, and how would you respond to their needs?
  • How important is a clean common area (kitchen, lounge, bathroom) to you? How often do you expect these areas to be clean?

One other item to consider is your personal safety. How will your room be locked, especially in shared living areas like Commencement, houses, or a suite in Trimble? How will guests gain access to shared living areas? Remember, all guests should be with their host at all times. Also, consider how those living together view and abide by campus policy. If one roommate is doing something illegal or against campus policy, how will that affect the other? Common issues that come up are pets that are against policy, underage drinking, or drug use. How do these behaviors outside of the shared living area impact your living area? Considering these questions before agreeing to live with someone else can save you a lot of heartache and frustration.

Navigating Conflict

If you live on campus, your RA or RCC will check in on your living situation in October and collect roommate/suitemate/housemate agreements. If at any point you are feeling frustrated with your living situation, the Residence Life staff is here to help! The first step is to name the conflict and talk to your roommate. If this seems difficult to do, your RA/RCC can help you strategize ways to talk to your roommate that are solution-focused. Your RA/RCC can also help you navigate the room change process if that is deemed necessary. Keep in mind that moving doesn’t always solve the issue. As you consider how to bring up your concerns with a roommate, keep in mind the following:

  • Timing, tone, and tact: How and when you bring up an issue can set the conversation upon the right path.
  • “I” statements and solution-focused conversation: own your perceptions and feelings, and be ready to provide an example of what you would like to see in the future. The following structure can help focus the conversation on changeable habits/behavior versus generalizations of character:
    • Feeling “I feel.”
    • Behavior “When You”
    • Effect: How does this impact the relationship?
    • Need: What are your needs in the situation?
    • Request for Change: Solution! I would really appreciate it if…

For example, I feel frustrated when you leave your dishes in the sink. When this happens, I resent you and don’t want to be home, so I avoid the house. I need the kitchen clean to cook my meals since I have a small meal plan, so I would really appreciate it if you would wash your dishes after you use them.

  • Practice! If this conversation structure feels forced, it can help to practice with a friend or RA/RCC. It’s easy to fall back into unhelpful habits such as “you always leave the dishes in the sink! You are such a slob!” To avoid name-calling and over-generalizations, practice practice practice.

Navigating conflict isn’t easy and may take multiple conversations to resolve some conflicts. With practice, having difficult conversations will become easier, and you will likely find ways this skill helps you outside of your living environment.