Living with other people can be tricky, whether they're your friends, a romantic partner, or people you found on Craigslist. When you're sharing a living space with one or more people, there's one pretty big caveat: You have to take their needs and preferences into consideration with your own — and sometimes, these things can clash. It doesn't matter if this is your first apartment or fifteenth: Figuring out how to set boundaries with your roommate is the most important thing you can do to ensure a happy, non-confrontational living environment.
Of course, that can be easier said than done in practice. Sometimes, people aren't clear about what they want when moving in with someone, and in trying to avoid confrontation, they can bottle up emotions and frustration until it all hits a breaking point. For example, if someone uses up all of my artisanal honey without asking me, I'm inevitably going to combust. It's just a fact.
One thing that can help, though, is thinking about what types of boundaries actually matter to you before you even move in with another person. Do you like a clean sink? Do you have trouble sleeping when the TV is on in the living room? Do you get frustrated when a refrigerator is cluttered and messy? Are you a hoarder with honey, like me?
You need to know what bothers you, and what bothers your roommate(s), before you can establish any boundaries.
Thinking about what you want to talk about ahead of time will ensure you have a communicative and healthy dialogue from the get-go, rather than a whole bunch of word-vomit when the time comes to talk about these things. For example, I don't personally care about people sleeping in my bed when I'm not in the apartment, and yet, I've seen that exact subject become a serious hot-button issue with friends and their roommates before, simply because no one thought to ask what everyone was comfortable with before making their decisions.
It's all about deciding what you actually care about in your ideal living situation, and according to licensed marriage and family therapist Nicole Richardson, it's important that you do this as early on in the living arrangement as possible.
"I think it's very important to talk about relationship expectations before moving in together," Richardson says in an interview with Elite Daily. "For example, when one person is having a bad day, do they want space, or a friend?"
But it's not just physical boundaries that you have to think about. It can become even more complicated to establish emotional and respect-based boundaries, like when your roommate has a significant other over all the time, and you keep seeing them lying on your couch in their underwear. Ugh.
In fact, according to psychotherapist LeslieBeth Wish, MSS, Ed.C, author of Smart Relationships and founder of LoveVictory, the conflict that can arise from overnight partners is "right up there, along with cleanliness, as the top roommate issue."
Much like Richardson's advice, Wish highly recommends discussing these things ahead of time (before the whole underwear-on-the-couch debacle even happens), in addition to the question of who pays for what the partner eats while they're over at your place, who cleans up after them, "and if you don't want any smoking, drinking, or doing drugs [in the apartment]."
Of course, having a roommate requires you to be flexible too, and learning to compromise is just as important as stating what you want in your living space.
"[Healthy boundaries] revolve around respecting one another's preferences and being sensitive toward your impact on one another," Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist and romantic getaway leader, tells me.
But if you have a roommate who is repeatedly crossing the boundaries that you've already established and agreed upon, or making you feel uncomfortable or disrespected through their actions, Richardson says that may be a red flag that you need to consider more serious measures. Constantly violating these established boundaries is a serious no-no.
"I think it's critical to discuss these issues without anger or criticism, and to make it clear that, if these kinds of behaviors continue, it may result in the need for a new living situation," Richardson tells Elite Daily. "If you have discussed it clearly, respectfully, without judgment or anger, and the other person just doesn’t get it, then it is probably time to explore a new living/roommate situation."
No one wants to deal with breaking a lease, or having to move out unexpectedly (or even worse: ending a friendship), so the way that you handle your frustrations, Wish explains, should be with as much tact as possible. In other words, don't shoot your roommate a quick text saying you just put all of their stuff out on the street by your building because their GF left her bra on the couch (again).
"Be sympathetic, and ask what would help him or her keep the rules," Wish says, "and be willing to discuss issues before they fester. You can also agree ahead of time to ask someone to mediate the problem if you cannot resolve your issues without anger."
Above all, the vibes in your apartment will inevitably affect how you and your roommate feel from day to day, so you want to make the environment as positive as possible.
With that in mind, consider making this "boundaries talk" fun by going to a nearby coffee shop, or grabbing a drink at happy hour together, so that neither you nor your roommate feel tense about the conversation. In the past, I've always preferred going over "apartment business" with roommates in a totally chill setting, like sitting down for some wine and cheese, or grabbing dinner together. By having a serious talk in a lighthearted way, you're sending the message to your roommate that it's totally natural and beneficial to talk about how you both feel in the apartment, and what's important to both of you in your living situation. The key, says Dr. Fisher, is to openly discuss your feelings, respect each other's views, and search for ways to meet in the middle.
If you're feeling nervous about talking to your roommate about something they do that bothers you, just remember that they're human, too. They probably have their own set of quirks, and they're likely worried you're annoyed at them for something, too. Try to speak to them the way that you'd want them to speak to you, if (and honestly, when) they get frustrated with something you do. Even Beyoncé has probably annoyed a roommate in the past. You're human. It happens.
Having a roommate can often be one of the most intimate relationships you have in your life. You don't have to be best friends with one another, but you do have to treat each other with respect. You get what you give, after all.