Drawing Boundaries for Your Roommate

in Roommates on by

Group Of Friends Enjoying Breakfast In Kitchen Together

This may be one of the most important issues for apartment dwellers – the drawing of boundaries with roommates. As eager as roomies may be to get along with each other, they need to learn how to mesh with the other person. There will be a learning curve, and boundaries makes it easier.

Each roommate has their own personality; their own wants and desires. Sometimes tight living quarters will pit people together in stressful situations.

Roommates need to know “the rules”, so they can respect them.

In every case, the scenario will differ.

Situations That May Arise

Perhaps your roommate is an only child who has never shared “stuff” (and space) with another person. Perhaps s/he simply doesn’t suspect there are categories that are “off limits”, as far as you’re concerned. For instance, you are adamant about needing lights out at 11:00…and your roomie is a night owl.

The shoe may be on the other foot and YOU may simply not be aware how important it is to your roommate to keep Fifi and Fido away from her Almond Verbena – its essence soothes her – and your pets have come dangerously close to munching on your roommate’s plant a few times.

In each of these cases, no malice has to be intended for a conflict to occur, but boundaries will make it easier to resolve these conflicts.

In a way, drawing up boundaries is like drawing up a physic blueprint for a viable marriage, where two people have cast their lots with each other but need to settle in their minds how they’re going to go about “being themselves” while allowing their spouses to remain true to themselves, as well.

This means curtailing a certain amount of freedom – you’d be able to do a few things differently if you lived alone – and it means overlooking the smaller stuff.

What Are Boundaries?

Boundaries are simply invisible lines – call them lines in the sand – which are perfectly clear to both parties, and which don’t come with a hidden agenda. There’s no pettiness or one-upmanship.

Here are some ways to set boundaries for your roomie from day one:

1. Draw up a list and sit down with your roommate as soon as the movers have driven away. This may sound presumptuous and as if you’re ASKING for trouble, but just the opposite is true. If you sit down and get this discussion out of the way, the rest of the living arrangement will go smoothly.

2. Bring it up right away if there’s been an infraction. You’ll both know exactly where you stand with each other. When the inevitable boundary-crossing happens, as it will, it’s such a relief to be able to point to the boundary list and accept an “oops; I forgot”, as opposed to having to hash it out from the beginning each time a line is crossed. Simply say: “Hey, I know this was just an oversight on your part, but remember how we talked about how important it is for me to have enough space in the fridge for my fresh carrot juice?” The other party will quickly “get it” and you won’t have to go into semantics, or discuss who’s to blame, and how important it is. Again, just say it’s on the list of boundaries.

3. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how silly or insignificant. Your roomie and you can’t read each other’s minds. If it’s important to you, or to her or him, it’s important. Period.

4. Stand firm when boundaries are broken. No bending over backwards “just this once” because such-and-such arose and this is an exception. Of course, emergencies do happen, and you can both let go of the boundaries in such cases, but we’re talking about daily happenstances. Just because it’s become more of an inconvenience for your roomie to respect your boundaries is no reason to ignore them.

Case in point: you explained that you need to take a shower by 6:00 a.m. every morning and there’s only one shower in the apartment. Your roommate got up late and would like to take HIS shower then. Nope. He’ll have to wait, even if it means being late.

Exception: you are willing to accommodate your roommate and feel no pressure to do so.

Remember: if you don’t bend the rules willy-nilly, she or he won’t either.

Another case in point: you’ve indicated you don’t want any unruly partying on the premises. Your roomie informs you that “just this once” he’d like to have his buddies come around and “have a good time”. No. That one time could turn into a pattern of rule-breaking. It’s much easier to adhere to the rules, and not look for, or enable, wiggle room.

5. Keep an open line of communication and stay flexible about everything else.

Remember the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you—and you and your roomie will be just fine. Don’t be overly suspicious. Focus on your roomie’s good qualities when you’re irked. Being considerate works handsomely for married couples…and it will work for you and your roommate.

Remember, think positively.


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