A Roommate Survival Guide


In this reading, Karen Langley provides helpful tips for getting along with roommates of all types.

How to troubleshoot minor problems before they become major issues.

No matter who your future living companion may be or what kind of living situation you find yourself in at college, be prepared to make some adjustments and compromises. I've found the following tips helpful in getting along with roommates of all types.

1. Be honest

It's inevitable: Sometimes roommates get on each other's nerves. That may be because you have different habits, or because you have different personalities. Too often I kept quiet about things my roommates did that bothered me. Looking back, I realize they probably had no clue those things annoyed me so much. If you aren't straightforward about what bothers you, you have no right to complain.

2. Choose your battles

On the other hand, if you grumble about every little incident, you will quickly be tuned out. It's important to make a genuine effort to be forgiving and flexible. Before you complain about an issue, ask yourself if it truly demands attention, or if it's something you can learn to bear. One of my roommates often left half-full cups from Burger King in the refrigerator for weeks. It annoyed me, but I never mentioned it to her. I just threw the cups away myself when the Coke had been flat for a few days. However, when money turned up missing from my desk drawer several times, I wasn't quick to place blame, but I did confront my roommates about it. After the confrontation, I didn't have any more problems with people borrowing cash without asking.

3. Bite your tongue

Sometimes, subtlety can solve a problem where harsh words would only inflame tempers. During my freshman year, I got annoyed when I realized I was the only one who ever took out the trash. So one day, I swallowed a mouthful of sarcastic comments and placed the sealed trash bag directly in the doorway between our room and the bathroom. After stepping over the garbage all day, my roommate took the hint and carried the bag to the dumpster. I likely could have achieved the same result by asking for help. Still, I'm glad I chose not to spew angry words rooted in irritation and impatience.

4. Find support

For those times when you're feeling roommate tension, you'll need a reliable, patient friend who can listen to your frustrations, offer advice and divert your attention. When I needed to get away from my room freshman year, I wandered next door for relief—the yearlong Yahtzee tournament with my suitemates was a big help. But if you have a serious issue that needs to be discussed, you may want to have a conversation with your resident assistant.

5. Be respectful

Perhaps your roommate hits the snooze button five times every morning. Resist the temptation to get even by blasting your music when you come in late at night. Returning respect for rudeness may not change anything, but then again, it might. One thing's for sure, though: retaliation can only make matters worse.

6. Be willing to listen

Everyone has a story and a past, and sometimes issues run deeper than they seem. When I took time to listen to a roommate's difficult family situation, my sympathy and patience for her increased.

7. Pray

If you're struggling with your roommate, pray for God to change your attitude and give you wisdom. And pray for your roommate's needs. At first, your prayers may be nothing but an act of willpower, but keep at it. God will bless your efforts and gradually soften your heart. You can even begin praying for your roommate before you arrive on campus.

8. Keep a healthy distance

Everyone needs space, so make sure you each have time away from each other. My suitemates were good friends and both on the basketball team, so they saw a lot of each other. But because of their different majors, they had separate friends and study groups, which gave them much-needed time apart.

9. Be flexible

You might get the urge to stay up late and watch a movie when your roommate has a big test the next morning. But living with another person means you both have to make some compromises to accommodate each other.

10. Keep your sense of humor

This may be the most important tip of all. In any college living situation, crazy things happen. You're setting yourself up for a rough year if you let every little incident get to you. So let matters roll off your shoulders instead of dwelling on them, and laugh off the little things. Remember, events that seem like a big deal now will be great stories later.

11. Learn from the experience

Whomever your future roommate turns out to be—whether you become the best of friends or whether you decide you'd rather retake the SAT 100 times than live with him or her again—remember that God can use your rooming situation to teach you valuable lessons and to further mold you into the person he wants you to be.

Written by Karen Langley

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