Sunday Edition #21: My Column in Yellow
I know you mostly answer questions about love but I’m hoping you can help me with a problem I’m having with my roommate. I don’t often have people over to the apartment. I’m single and rarely bring home guys. But, on occasion I have a friend visit from overseas. I always ask permission and pay for a cleaning service after my guest leaves. There was never a problem until this last time when I got a very unexpected text from my roommate complaining. It upsets me because I never ask for much and am very patient with her boyfriend being there and friends. I want to stand up for myself but I don’t want to ruin the peaceful living environment. What should I do?
“Home is where you hang your heart”… right? Sure, I guess, but for me, it is where I cry, regain my strength, cry, implement my creativity, cry, store all the yellow objects I’ve collected and hide from the outside world (while sometimes crying).
What I’m trying to say is home is a very important part of our lives. So, when conflict there arises, it can throw everything completely off, causing a feeling of chaos in all areas of everyday life. Because of this, it is important to take the steps necessary to make it a happy place to return to every night.
Living alone isn’t a luxury all of us can afford, so we cohabitate with others trying to make the best of cheaper rent and shared expenses. Adding another human being into a living situation will always bring in the possibility of problems and personality clashes. I know a few people who admit they aren’t easy to live with, having particular needs that not every roommate might tolerate. While others I know claim to be easy to get along with but actually aren’t once you share a roof with them. Just like with Love, there will never be a perfect match. All you can do is make the best of what you have knowing it won’t be kittens and roses all the time.
What do you do when things aren’t perfect?
It is easy to think avoiding the issue is the best choice but it will just cause a slow build up and explosion that is much worse than if you had just addressed it from the beginning. Avoiding will make the environment at home toxic and uncomfortable.
I always suggest talking in person. It is unfortunate that your roommate chose a more passive communication method because it doesn’t allow you to see and understand her tone and level of unhappiness. It also doesn’t allow you to start a healthy dialogue back and forth about it. She pretty much threw a grenade into your life and took cover while you got blown to pieces.
So now you need to take the higher road and try to move the conversation to in-person. Terrifying, I know. Also, try to not look at it as “standing up for yourself” and more as you “communicating your needs and expectations.” This will allow you to approach it from a place that is open rather than closed fist and ready for battle.
It might be tempting to go straight into pointing out all the examples you listed in your question to me but let her talk first. Ask her to explain her dissatisfaction. You might come to realize that the root of her unhappiness has nothing to do with you. Maybe she is stressed at work, not feeling well, having troubles with her boyfriend… so coming home to a houseguest that doesn’t usually bother her did this time.
Keep your emotions out of it. If you let yourself get worked up, the conversation could backfire. If she gets emotional and defensive, hold your peaceful ground. Keep listening and explain your perspective of the situation calmly.
It might take more than one conversation to resolve the conflict but if your roommate is a good person, she too will want to do the work to make everything okay again. Both of you need to be open and willing to suggestions and requests from the other just as long as they are fair and will ultimately improve life at home.
Look at this as an opportunity to better understand the person your share your home with rather than the end of a happy home.
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My Life in Yellow is not a licensed psychologist or health care professional and the advice within this column does not replace the care of psychologists or other healthcare professionals. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a health/medical professional. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.