Roommate Issues

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’m sharing an apartment with my girlfriend and two other guys for college and we have all written, signed, and agreed to a set of rules, guidelines, and penalties, being clear that we wanted to make our time here as easy and peaceful as possible. Even though we did that, one of the guys I live with consistently breaks the rules and makes messes without cleaning them up and it has gotten to the point that he doesn’t listen to us anymore or follow the guidelines for the apartment that we all agreed to. He told my girlfriend that he thinks I’m trying to dominate him and that I’m manipulative with the intention of making him clean up our messes, which is simply not true; we clean up our own messes and I don’t care to dominate anyone. I just want a healthy apartment in which we can all be comfortable. He told her not to tell me about that, but he wouldn’t tell me himself for some reason.
It’s frustrating and stressful for all of us and I don’t know how to solve this issue since he thinks I’m being manipulative and that I have hidden motives when I can’t possibly be any more straightforward and clear with everything. He won’t sit with us to talk and solve the problems, either. Since he perceives the things I say to him as manipulative and dominating, I haven’t been talking to him for weeks, but the issues still remain. He also thinks that I’m controlling my girlfriend and that she’s basically my puppet, which is also not true, but that prevents her from being a mediator to help fix things. He agreed earlier to go to the campus counselors with us to solve these issues, but it’s only for one session. If that doesn’t help, we were thinking of calling his mom to see if she can get through to him. What can we do to solve the problems so we can at least have a peaceful, clean, orderly apartment for the rest of the semester? Any advice or tips?

A: It’s not uncommon for people who are trying to live together for the first time to have issues like these. You all did a great job at the outset. Setting up clear guidelines and penalities is usually a way to prevent situations like this. You didn’t mention what the penalties are supposed to be but it certainly sounds like it’s way past time to invoke them.

This guy is in control of the entire household. He does what he pleases. He has you all living on his terms. When any of you call him on it, he turns it back around on you by calling you names. He’s even dictating how often you will all see a counselor. Who made him king?

I’m concerned that somehow your other roommates have put you in the position of the “enforcer.” Your problem at this point is as much with your girlfriend and your other housemate as it is with Mr. Slob. It’s not just your problem. It’s a household problem. The three of you need to hold a meeting and decide what you want to do collectively. If you need help with that, by all means go to see the school counselor by yourselves and come to agreement. You don’t need him to go along to the counseling session. In fact, my guess is that he’s not really interested in changing but only in proving to the counselor that you are all being unreasonable. You’ll probably get more done if you leave him out, at least for the first meeting.

You might also see what your legal rights are since he did sign a contract with all of you that he is happily breaking.

Once you’ve decided on a course of action, the three of you need to present it as a group decision with group consequences. Be sure that everyone truly buys in and will back you up. If they won’t, then that’s the issue you need to talk to the counselor about. It’s not appropriate or fair of your housemates to put you out front, leading the charge and then to go passive on you.

By the way: Calling his mother might be one alternative but, frankly, I think that’s a last resort. See if you can handle it as the adults you are.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Jan 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Roommate Issues. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/01/23/roommate-issues/

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