For many students, attending college means living away from home, either on or off campus. This choice necessitates learning to live with others. This may provide you with an opportunity to live with and learn to appreciate people who are very different from your self. Living with roommates provides an exciting opportunity for close friendships but also brings with it many challenges.
Students often come from differing home environments and bring with them varying expectations regarding what their living environment should be like. In addition, individual needs often change over time. Very often these differences and changing expectations lead to conflict. While conflict is a part of life and life would hold no challenge without it, weathering these conflicts with someone you live with can be a very difficult and trying process.
Often clarifying expectations ahead of time can be helpful. Some students find it helpful to do this in a formal manner by creating a roommate contract. If you live on campus and have not already done this or if you feel the contract you have is not meeting your needs, your resident assistant or head resident can help you write a contract. The most important thing is to clarify expectations and decide how to communicate when difficult issues occur in the future. Regardless of whether there is a formal contract, it is important that you clearly express your own needs and attend to the needs of your roommate(s).
Often the temptation is to just let things go rather than to inform a roommate of a difficulty. This often leads to resentment. You may find it helpful to communicate about difficulties as they occur rather than waiting for your resentment to build. For example it may be hard to tell a roomate that you are not comfortable with how he or she uses your food. If you wait until the year is almost over to say something, you will likely get more and more frustrated. If you talk about it when it first bothers you, it will provide for an opportunity to resolve your misunderstandings.
Despite your best efforts, there will be times when you feel frustrated and overwhelmed by what is happening with your roommates. This may be because the difficulties with communication seem unmanageable or the issues may feel overwhelming.
In communicating with your roommates, it is important that you think about what is really bothering you and that you be as clear and direct in communicating it as possible. It is important to do it in a way that minimizes your roomate's need to feel defensive. Find a private time to share your concerns and share with them what behavior is bothering you and how if affects you.
If your roommate is dealing with a difficult personal issue, it is important that you be supportive, but it is also important that you continue to care for yourself. Do not put yourself in the position of feeling responsible for things over which you have no control. In instances where a roommate's concerns feel overwhelming, get help figuring out how to help your roommate and how to take care of yourself in the situation. Talk to your RA if you have one, or call or stop by the Counseling Center for an appointment with a counselor. If appropriate, you may want to contact the Drug and Alcohol Program at ext. 2928.