Young People Ask . . .

How Can I Get Along With My Roommate?

“I wanted a clean kitchen. But my roommates didn’t care if there were dishes out or if they had left stuff out on the stove. It just didn’t matter to them.”​—Lynn. *

ROOMMATES. “They can be the best of friends or the worst of enemies,” claims writer Kevin Scoleri. You may not feel that strongly yourself, but it is undeniable that living with someone can be a real challenge. * Roommate clashes are so common among university students that according to U.S.News & World Report, many schools are making “extensive efforts” to help roommates get along, including “conflict mediation programs” and seminars.

Sharing an apartment can be difficult even for young Christians who have left home to pursue the full-time evangelizing work. The good news is that by applying Bible principles and by showing “practical wisdom,” conflicts can often be resolved.​—Proverbs 2:7.

Get to Know Each Other

Once the excitement of moving has worn off, you might find yourself longing for the way things were back home. (Numbers 11:4, 5) Dwelling on the past, however, will only make it harder for you to adjust. Ecclesiastes 7:10 gives this advice: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’ for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.” Yes, it’s best to make the most of your situation.

Begin by making efforts to get to know your roommate. True, it is not necessary for roommates to be the closest of friends. In fact, he or she may not be someone to whom you are particularly drawn. Still, if you have to live with that person, doesn’t it make sense to have as amicable a relationship as possible?

Philippians 2:4 tells us to keep an eye, “not in personal interest upon just your own matters, but also in personal interest upon those of the others.” Without launching into what sounds like an interrogation, could you ask about your roommate’s family background, his or her interests, goals, and preferences? Share information about yourself. The more you learn about each other, the more you will begin to understand each other.

From time to time, make definite plans to do things together. Lee says: “Sometimes my roommates and I go out to eat, or we may visit some art galleries together.” For Christian roommates, sharing spiritual activities, such as preparing for congregation meetings or  working in the evangelizing work, is an even more effective way to forge bonds of friendship.

David says: “When my roommate gave a public Bible lecture, I visited his congregation to support him.” Although he and his roommate have different tastes when it comes to things like sports and music, their love of spiritual things has created a bond. “We have a lot of spiritual conversations,” says David. “In fact, we can talk for hours about spiritual things.”

A word of caution: Don’t get so close to a roommate that you fail to develop other healthy relationships. If your roommate feels that you have to be invited every time he or she goes anywhere, he or she might begin to feel smothered. The Bible’s counsel is to “widen out” in your friendships.​—2 Corinthians 6:13.

Living by the Golden Rule

Of course, as you get to know each other, you’ll also become aware of your differences in habits, tastes, and viewpoints. As young Mark cautions, “you should expect imperfections.” Being inflexible or self-centered generates stress and tension. So does expecting your roommate to make major changes to accommodate you.

Fernando has learned this about being a roommate: “You have to be unselfish and not self-centered.” His remark is in harmony with the famous Golden Rule, which states: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) For example, Fernando soon discovered that he and his roommate clashed over room temperature; he liked it warm, but his roommate preferred to sleep with the temperature low. The solution? Says Fernando: “I got myself a blanket.” Yes, as Mark puts it, “be flexible. You don’t have to give up all your ways, but you may have to give up a way or two.”

Here’s another area in which you can apply the Golden Rule: Learn to be tolerant of your roommate’s tastes. You say that you don’t like his music? Well, most likely he feels the same about yours. So if your roommate’s tastes in music are not morally degrading, you might try practicing tolerance. Fernando says: “I’d prefer it if my roommate had different tastes in music. But I’m getting used to it.” On the other hand, a person can enjoy his music through headphones so as not to disturb his roommate, who may be studying.

Applying the Golden Rule can also prevent needless disputes over material possessions. For example, if you have the habit of helping yourself to whatever is in the refrigerator​—but rarely replenish it—​resentment can grow. At the same time, getting angry or giving a cold stare when your roommate helps himself or herself to something you have bought won’t exactly promote warm relations either. The Bible encourages us “to be liberal, ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18) If you feel that you are being taken advantage of, don’t retreat into silence. State your grievance calmly and kindly.

Be respectful of each other’s personal possessions. It is presumptuous to borrow  something without asking permission. (Proverbs 11:2) Be mindful, too, of your roommate’s need for privacy. Extend simple courtesies like knocking before entering his or her room. When you show respect, your roommate will likely reciprocate. “It’s OK for either of us to study at home,” says David. “We both totally respect that and will be quiet for each other. But sometimes I’ll go to a library to study in case my roommate wants to do something else.”

Applying the Golden Rule would also include being responsible when it comes to such things as paying your share of the rent on time or doing your share of the household chores.

Handling Disputes

Back in Bible times, two well-respected Christian men named Paul and Barnabas had “a sharp burst of anger.” (Acts 15:39) What if something similar happens between you two? Perhaps there is a personality clash or some irritating personal habit that pushes your patience to the limit. Does one disagreement or heated discussion necessarily mean that you should stop rooming together? Not necessarily. Paul and Barnabas were evidently able to work out their differences. Perhaps you can do the same before taking a step as drastic as moving out. Here are some Bible principles that can help.

● ‘Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind, consider that the others are superior to you.’​—Philippians 2:3.

● “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you.”​—Ephesians 4:31, 32.

● “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”​—Matthew 5:23, 24; Ephesians 4:26.

The Benefits

Many young (and not-so-young) Christians with roommates have learned firsthand the truth of the words of wise King Solomon: “Two are better than one.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) Indeed, many have found the experience of rooming with someone to be beneficial. “I’ve learned how to deal with people better and to adapt,” says Mark. Renee adds: “You learn a lot about yourself. And at the same time, roommates can be positive peer pressure.” Lynn admits: “I was very spoiled when I moved in with my roommates. But I’ve learned not to be so rigid. I realize now that just because somebody does things differently from me, it doesn’t mean she’s wrong.”

True, getting along with a roommate takes effort and sacrifice. But if you work hard at applying Bible principles, you can do more than coexist peacefully; you might even find yourself enjoying having a roommate.


^ par. 3 Some names have been changed.

^ par. 4 See the article “Why Is My Roommate So Hard to Live With?” appearing in our issue of April 22, 2002.

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Helping yourself to things that are not yours can cause tension

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Show consideration to each other