two roommates who might have a toxic relationship surrounded by boxes in their apartment.
These 15 Red Flags Might Mean Your Roommate Relationship Is Toxic

Bad vibes all around.

by Julia Guerra, Amanda Arnold and Mackenzie Sylvester
Originally Published: 
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No offense to mom or dad, but there’s nothing better than living on your own — that is, unless your income requires you to get a roomie and things go south. You can’t always tell if your roommate is controlling or toxic right off the bat, especially if you’ve never experienced something like that before. A toxic roommate can be particularly difficult to spot if they're an acquaintance or a stranger — toxic behaviors are rarely obvious on first impression — but you might be surprised to see these behaviors even in a good friend-turned-roommate. You see people in a new light when you live with them.

But there's a difference between someone constantly leaving unwashed dishes for you to clean and someone who is actually toxic. According to doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, a toxic person can be defined as “someone who violates personal boundaries physically, emotionally, or psychologically.” Oftentimes, she tells Elite Daily, these types of people are “passive aggressive, or act in ways that make it difficult to assess their genuineness.”

There are a few ways to go about dealing with a toxic roommate. “I believe that the best path for a successful roommate experience is open communication,” Jennifer Panning, a licensed clinical psychologist Mindful Psychology Associates, tells Elite Daily. Forshee echoes this note, adding that it’s very important to address the toxicity with the other person first, “before making any assumptions or moves,” like packing your bags and leaving them stranded without forking over half the rent as payback.

“Point out the situation,” Forshee continues, “then say how you feel about them, ask open-ended questions to understand their perspective, and then tell them what you need.” Imagine structuring the conversation like you would an essay: State your case, back up your claim, and make a closing argument you both can work with. Even if you hate confrontation, these types of conversations are necessary when it comes to creating a happy home for yourself.

Here are a few telltale signs your roommate doesn’t like you and is toxic to be around.

They Overreact To The Smallest Things
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It’s one thing if your roommate gets a little peeved when you're constantly leaving dirty dishes in the sink, or if your hair clogs the shower drain and you never unravel the strands.

But let's say, for instance, you forget to shut the TV off one night, or leave a glass of water on the table while you're in class, and your roomie blows a fuse: You get a blast of screams, followed by the iciest of cold shoulders. That’s what behavioral scientist Clarissa Silva would call a red flag.

"If your roommate is frequently overreacting to minor issues," Silva tells Elite Daily, "it could be they're frustrated with something that is not due to you," such as anxiety, insecurity, immaturity, or other friendship issues. Either way, she continues, it’s likely something they need to address rather than taking it out on you.

They're Controlling

Some like to go with the flow, while others take the reins and don't back down.

If your roomie always has to have everything just so, that's fine to an extent. (Honestly, who doesn't prefer their own way of doing things?) But according to Silva, this can become problematic if their uncompromising behavior starts to affect how you live. This, too, likely has nothing to do with you and your household habits; rather, Silva explains, something about you could be “triggering their behavior.” It’s not up to you to solve their aggression — it’s up to your roommate. And remember: It’s your home, too.

They're Super Needy

On the other side of the spectrum, you might come across people who need a little more than you can give them. These types are often referred to as "emotional vampires," says licensed marriage and family therapist Kati Morton. But instead of sucking blood, they suck everything they can get out of you until you're mentally exhausted.

"They can depend on you for a social life, or even all their emotional support," Morton tells Elite Daily. "If they don't have other people they can count on, or even ways to help themselves, that can be exhausting and overwhelming."

Once again: There’s a good chance your roommate’s hyper-dependence has nothing to do with you and everything to do with something going on in their personal life. It’s a situation that can easily get tricky, but your first line of defense is to set boundaries. "Set up some limits as to when you will talk to them and how long you will be around them," Morton tells Elite Daily. "Trust me, you will feel so much better."

They Bring Out The Worst In You

The key to a good romantic relationship is to find a partner who makes you feel like the best version of yourself. It’s a rule that can be applied to any person in your life — especially if you're going to live with them.

When you hit it off with someone, it's easy to adapt to their behaviors without meaning to. If your roomie's favorite Friday night activity is to round-robin happy hours in the city until they’re plastered, for instance, and you find yourself raising multiple glasses when, really, you'd rather be home watching Euphoria, something's not right there.

If you start to notice unwelcome changes in your own behavior — in particular, actions that don’t feel like the you you want to be — there's a good chance you may be dealing with a toxic roommate and you two might not work out.

They Make You Feel Bad About Yourself

You don't have to be best friends with your roommate to coexist in peace, but when a roomie becomes your nemesis, it's time to either hash things out or find a new home.

The key here is to notice how you feel when you’re around your roommate. Do you feel bad about yourself when they’re around? When a roommate becomes manipulative, Silva tells Elite Daily, in the sense that they're constantly "demeaning you as a person" or "creating self-doubt within you," it tends to be a red flag in terms of speaking to their conflict resolution style. It may not have anything to do with who you are at all, but it's definitely not something you should accept, either.

They're Passive Aggressive
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Passive aggression is probably the easiest conflict resolution style to fall into when dealing with roommate drama; it’s also arguably the worst. It may feel better in the moment to avoid the tough conversations, but in the long run, it’s not productive for you or your roomie to keep all that tension bottled up inside.

When someone doesn’t straightforwardly tell you what’s bothering them — and instead finds indirect ways to make you feel bad — that’s a good indicator that you’re dealing with a toxic personality, says Dr. Carolina Castaños, Ph.D., LMFT. If your roommate tends to be passive aggressive, you can’t change that about them; they have to figure out how to manage their emotions and actions on their own. You can, however, change your behavior: Take a moment to notice how you feel about your roommate and your living situation, and then directly (but kindly) address any issues. Then cross your fingers that they’ll reciprocate this kind of healthy behavior.

They're Emotionally Unstable

Everyone has emotions, and they’re not always rational. Emotional instability, however, is when someone expresses their feelings in an explosive way (such as angry outbursts) or when it starts to affect their health, said Castaños.

Oftentimes when a person is toxic, Castaños points out, they aren't able "to recognize how any of his/her behaviors might have impacted you," especially when the toxicity stems from their emotional state. The best thing you can do is be there for your roommate when they need you, but know when to take a step back when their feelings either start to affect yours, or are taken out on you.

They'll Do Anything For Attention

Someone who seems to do anything for attention, "including talking about you behind your back, sharing your personal information with others, or being flirtatious with your partner," is a red flag at best, Castaños says. It’s a matter of poor boundary setting, and it’s best to address the situation before it gets out of control.

This doesn't mean you have to hash it out with an attitude and a grocery list of your roommate’s wrong-doings. Calmly sit them down and let them know their behavior is causing a rift. Hopefully they'll hear you out and re-evaluate their actions.

They Don’t Care About Your Boundaries

Figuring out how to deal with a roommate who is inconsiderate of your boundaries can be exhausting. Perhaps you’ve lived with someone who seems like the perfect roommate — except for the fact that they have this annoying habit of blasting music from their fancy Bose speakers at unreasonable hours, and the noise is super disruptive to you. Ideally, you and your roommate would’ve had a discussion about boundaries at the start of living together, but let’s face it: That conversation can be slightly uncomfortable, which is why it sometimes falls through the cracks.

Now, let’s say your roommate’s late-night music habit is really starting to drive you mad. If they know it bothers you, and they really couldn’t care less — well, Panning says it might be time for you to have a roomie breakup. At the end of the day, “we want our homes to feel as comfortable and calm as possible,” Panning tells Elite Daily. “When tensions arise, that can lead to one or both people feeling stressed and tense about going back home.” That’s a situation no one wants.

They’re Unwilling to Compromise

There are many keys to living a psychologically healthy life, and in Panning’s opinion, “flexibility and openness” are among the most important. “Life changes, sometimes quickly, and our ability to adapt to these changes is an important indicator for success in relationships and in life,” Panning says.

If your roommate refuses to make compromises over things like cleanliness standards and when it’s appropriate to have guests over, that spells trouble. “If a person has attempted to be open with their roommate about their thoughts and feelings, and the roommate refuses to compromise over small things, this is not a good sign,” Panning says. “Empathy towards others, whether that is a roommate, friend, or romantic partner, is important if the person values the connection. An unwillingness to compromise shows a lack of empathy about the other’s needs, and can lead to much frustration and anger.” If you find yourself in this situation, it might be time to ask yourself: Is this really someone I want to live with?

They Can’t Apologize
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If they can never admit that they’re wrong or say sorry, they’re probably a toxic roommate. “The reason that that’s harmful is they’re probably going to blame all of their problems on you,” Psychologist and friendship expert Dr. Marisa Franco, Ph.D., tells Elite Daily. “Apologies can be very reparative and restorative for relationships, so your relationship will be missing out on that and your roommate probably won’t take as much accountability for their behavior and change their behavior because they can’t admit that they were wrong.”

If your roommate truly respects you and wants to have harmony at home and in the relationship, they will respect your perspective when you’re upset. Instead of deflecting the blame, a good roommate would take responsibility if they’re in the wrong and apologize.

They’re Rooting For You To Fail

There’s nothing worse than having someone in your life constantly dragging you down and trying to undermine your wins. They can never just be happy for you and give you a “congrats” or “good job.” This mindset that your success somehow indicates their failures is toxic in itself.

Say you aced a super important test and you’re stoked about it, but your roommate just has to point out how that class “wasn’t that hard” or jumps at the opportunity to share their higher score. “It will be sort of subtle words that will indicate that they don’t necessarily want you to succeed,” Franco says. “And then when you do succeed, are they expressing happiness about that or are they saying something passive aggressive and negative?”

They’re Reactive

Someone who yells or snaps at you and generally responds from a place of anger will ultimately create a toxic living environment. Instead of taking in the situation, thinking about it, and then responding, they just react. “It’s a sign that they’re not able to regulate their emotions,” notes Franco. “They’re attempting to regulate their own emotions through how they treat you, treating you more negatively, and it sort of makes them transfer the negative energy onto you.” In a healthy relationship, they would be able to talk to you in a calm and respectful manner and explain what it is about the situation that is upsetting them.

They Speak In Absolutes

In relationships, there’s something couples therapists call the Gottman’s Four Horseman of the Apocalypse — four ways you can communicate that will lead to divorce or a breakup, according to Franco. One of these four ways guaranteed to ruin any relationship? Criticism, “which basically means that when somebody does something that you don’t like, you make it about who they are as a person,” says Franco. So you forgot to load the dishwasher one time, and now you yourself are a lazy, messy person who can never do anything helpful.

“It’s like black or white, all or none,” Franco notes. “You do one thing wrong and it’s like you do everything wrong, and that means they’re not recognizing that you also do things that are right.” They’re implying that your one mistake is some chronic trait of your personality, which inevitably will make you not want to help out or do what they want.

They Stonewall You

Another of the Gottman Four Horseman, Franco says, is stonewalling. This means when an issue arises between you two, they completely shut you out. If you requested that they do the dishes more, for example, they might straight up ignore you, consider it a non-issue, or even start avoiding you. “It’s just literally them shutting down when you’re trying to have a conversation, dismissing it, trying to withdraw from the conversation, and then maybe withdrawing from you generally,” Franco explains. If this sounds all too familiar, it may be a sign you’re living with a toxic roommate.


Dr. Danielle Forshee, LLC, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker

Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and creator of Your Happiness Hypothesis Method

Kati Morton, licensed marriage and family therapist

Dr. Carolina Castaños, Ph.D., LMFT

Dr. Marisa Franco, Ph.D., psychologist and friendship expert

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