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You may be familiar with sneak attacks by roommates, like procrastinating on emptying the trash, the silent treatment, and snarky texts. “It always feels easier to ‘hint’ when it come to conflict,” says Rhonda Richards-Smith, a relationship expert and psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California. “However, this behavior can be misleading and is often misinterpreted. It assumes the person can read your mind, which they simply cannot.” Alex W., a senior at CU-Boulder, says “Be direct and up-front with your concerns, even if it’s difficult.” Here’s how to cope with the passive-aggressive roommate in your life—and how not to be the passive-aggressive one in someone else’s.

The chore war

Example: “My high school best friend and I no longer could stand one another. To get back at him, I would procrastinate on cleaning.”
—Mike F.*, second-year undergraduate, Ball State University, Indiana

How to react?

  • If the “house rules” say it’s your week to do the dishes and you honestly can’t, give your roommate a heads up.
  • “Talk to your roommate directly about how their behavior is impacting you,” says Richards-Smith. Find the right time.

How to prevent it

  • Don’t gang up with one roommate against another. “Have every roommate involved in the discussion,” says Jangle C., a sophomore at CU-Boulder.
  • Don’t try to “win.” It’s more important to move past this and stay civil.
  • When talking with your roommate, use LARA:
    • Listen and keep eye contact.
    • Acknowledge: repeat their statements back to them.
    • Respond: address their concerns.
    • Add important points that haven’t been raised (e.g., a mutually agreed-upon solution).

+ The Department of State’s diplomatic guide to “I messages”

Borrowing without asking

Example: “My roommate used all of my things without my permission. I locked up our most vital thing, the can opener, so she couldn’t use it without asking.”
—Audrey B.*, undergraduate, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater

How to react?

  • “Call a house meeting. You may come to a better understanding of one another,” says Richards-Smith.
  • Don’t get personal. Calling someone insane or uptight may seem true, but no good will come of it.
  • The more you practice emotional self-control, the easier you can stay calm.

How to prevent it

  • Do you share everything or just the rent? Talk, so you know where they stand. Using stuff without permission can feel invasive to your roommate.
  • If your roommate has a “borrowing” problem, consider moving your stuff into your room. Respectfully explain why.
  • In some cases, let it slide—like if your roommate occasionally swipes a squirt of ketchup.

+ Find inspiration in Pinterest boards on roommate organization

Dodging the bill

Example: “Changing the password on the router when they have not paid their half of the internet bill.”
—Ben S.*, fourth-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology

How to react?

  • Explain that you don’t currently have funds; say when you can pay up.
  • Even if someone’s shopping spree means they can’t cover rent, ridiculing their purchases won’t fix things. Talk and plan.

How to prevent it

  • “A written agreement should be created prior to your move-in date detailing what happens if a roommate does not fulfill their financial responsibilities,” says Richards-Smith.
  • Most payments are due at the same time each month. Make a schedule, share it, and collect money a week early so there’s no last-minute scramble.
  • Communicate about anticipated cash flow problems.

+ To share money quickly, try the Venmo app

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