Communication Problems with Roommates = Poor/No Advance Expectations


Roommate problems are miscommunication problems, with the biggest issue of setting clear expectations up front.  My daughter moved to the opposite coast and found herself in need of a roommate.  At her new job, another young female employee was looking to cut costs by sharing expenses rather than stay in her studio apartment.  So naturally the two made plans to move in together as it looked like a good match of these two young twenties girls.  But in the background for me was dark memories of college roommates, people who don’t know each other well being thrown in together – and you know how college roommates don’t work out 9 times out of 10. 

The problems here are several: a) few alternative living arrangements options if this didn’t work out, b) a one year lease signed, and c) the necessity of housing – becoming homeless is really not a choice.  Compounding these problems are other considerations that young people rarely think about – a) not really knowing the other person’s annoying habits (which ones are the deal breakers?), b) not discussing standards in advance on cleaning, stocking the fridge, etc., and c) not establishing a protocol to deal with problems that arise — and has to be assumed that problems will arise.

So with no prior discussion at all (of course not, why would they?) they merrily moved in together 3 months ago.  Today things aren’t so rosy, but what can be done now?  It’s the typical living together issues – “she gets defensive whenever I try to mention anything”, “she’s really bad with responsibility”, “she never takes care of her new puppy and expects me to all the work (it’s a bad dog and not at all housebroken…)”.

All of these relationship issues are certainly annoying, but short of being an axe murderer, they are not enough to warrant booting the roommate to the curb.  If she even could, she can’t since where would that get her?  She can’t afford the place herself, there is no replacement roomie anywhere in sight, so she’s rather stuck.  The hindsight question to help others is:  how could this have been avoided?  And the remedial question,  since it wasn’t avoided, how can it be corrected?

On the avoidance question, which is really how do you preempt a relationship from going bad in the first place, the answer is pre-planning.  Yes, pre-plan for things to go bad, then raise a flag in triumph if they never do.  Think of everything that might go wrong, then arm the relationship with a problem protocol established in advance and clear expectations discussed up front.  Basically you’re saying, “Here are the problem areas” and “Here’s what we’ll do if any of those problems present themselves”.  It’s so very smart to have the up-front discussion while cool heads prevail.

But when this preemptive discussion doesn’t happen, as is usually the case, then what can be done?  While it’s hard to do because the default mode of doormat has set in (“I can’t say anything about the behavior now, after all this time…”), the answer is to stand up for your rights and draw a hard (albeit, late) line in the sand moving forward.  If the line is crossed, state the consequences, then follow through.  It’s not easy to be firm in a relationship that’s gone too far down the nasty road, but what is your sanity worth?  At some point it has to be done, unless you like the bad health that comes with boiling blood.  This is your out if there are no other moving out choices. 

COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  All relationships start out rosy and trouble-free, which is the best time to get serious and discuss standards and protocol to follow, for when the inevitable bumps in the road present themselves.  Be the brave strong one and initiate the discussion.  If it’s past the ‘honeymoon’ period and the relationship is showing signs of communication fraying, still be the brave strong one and initiate the talk; much better to save the relationship with smiles than let it die a you-never-understood-me-and-I’m-out-of-here death.  Or a silent slip away (“you’re a different person from who I used to know”).  The worse is leading a life of martyrdom unhappiness – everyone deserves better than that.

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