Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Oregon State University's student-run lifestyle magazine

Beaver's Digest

Latest issue

Beyond a sock on the door: How to navigate roommates and their partners

Taylor Cockrell, OMN Photographer
Samuel Keeps (he/him) waits outside his dorm room in Sackett Hall on Nov. 28, 2023

Navigating living with roommates can be challenging enough. Then when you add in their romantic partners to the mix, the dynamics become even more complicated. 

College is often the first time many people have to live with roommates and the first time people begin to have serious relationships. Learning to balance both is essential to maintaining a healthy and happy living environment. 

Silas Petersen, a fourth-year accounting and business management major, has lived with roommates who have been in relationships for the last four years. 

He appreciates when his roommates’ partners feel more like a roommate. 

“In some ways because they feel kind of a shared responsibility for the place,” Petersen said.

He said it is more challenging when their partners crash on the couch for the weekend and don’t treat the space as their own. Petersen also appreciates it if his roommates and their partners clean the kitchen quickly after making a big dinner rather than letting it sit out all night. 

Erin Cook, a senior instructor of interpersonal communication at Oregon State University, said to, “reclaim the art of having casual conversations about your relationships.” 

She said that most people will have conflicts with their roommates and talk to their family members, partner or other friends about the issue and never actually have a conversation with their roommate. 

Instead of pushing off hard conversations, she encourages people to engage in invitational communication, which means openly expressing your opinions and beliefs while letting others do the same.     

“It is important for people to engage in an open communication with the goal of not being right,” Cook said. “(Instead) the goal is to be open and learn about each other.”

Having a conversation with your roommates about expectations for your shared living space is an important tool at the beginning and throughout the living experience. 

“We become territorial beings,” Cook said. “And, if you can’t express your dissatisfaction with something, the other person is never really going to fully know.” 

When expectations are set from the get-go, it creates an environment where people feel more open to discussing issues as they come up. 

“If I’m like really close friends with my roommate, and they are always gone, it’s kind of frustrating because … I wish I could hang out with my friend more,” Petersen said. “Conversely, if their partners are always over, I don’t get personal time with my friend, even if I like their partner you know, there’s value to having just one on one friendship time.”

Petersen said that it is nice to get a heads up before someone’s partner does come over, that way he can adjust his plans and feel prepared. 

A behavior that he gets frustrated with is when his roommate and partner are snuggling together on the couch.

 “It’s kind of annoying because I want to use the shared space but sometimes it’s a little awkward,” Petersen said.

When it comes to living in the same room with someone such as in the dormitory a whole new set of etiquettes could be applied. 

Petersen said that if you have a good relationship with your roommate and a shared understanding, it is okay to let them have the room for a night, but make sure that your roommate has somewhere to go first.

“Don’t bring your partner over to sleep in the same bed (while your roommate is there),” Cook said. 

Since all of your space is shared in one room, Cook said, “being able to talk about and explain where your comfort levels are with certain things is important.”

Frances Curley O’Malley, a first-year business student, currently lives in Finley Hall. She said that it has been important to set boundaries and communicate with her roommate when it comes to their romantic partners. 

She said it is especially important to give your roommate a heads up if their partner is going to be over. 

“Letting me know before you come in so I’m not walking in on a shirtless man,” Curley O’Malley said. 

Cook said that when she was an undergrad living in the dorms, her roommate would often have romantic partners over without a heads-up. Cook avoided having the hard conversations. 

“I was just biding my time till I could move out and find something else,” Cook said. 

Navigating setting boundaries and communicating with roommates can feel overwhelming.

If experiencing discomfort with a behavior a roommate is displaying it is important to learn how to express a complaint while recognizing and acknowledging the other person, Cook said.

“I think the biggest thing is going into the conversations without judgment,” Cook said. 

When approaching having a difficult conversation with a roommate, make sure there are limited distractions, no other things on their schedule, and introduce the idea of having a talk beforehand. 

“We don’t view conflict or even competitions as being mutually beneficial,” Cook said. “And that’s not necessarily the case.”

Cook said to try to avoid letting the person who is the most vocal of the group lead the conversation. She suggests letting everyone have two minutes to speak so everyone’s voice is heard equally. 

“Defensiveness is caused by what are called face-threatening acts,” Cook said. 

When people get defensive they can either deny responsibility or criticize back. Defensiveness can also often stem from confusion.

She suggests to avoid this, it is best to stay objective and don’t make assumptions. Allow space for the other person to explain themselves. 

If all else fails she suggests to first, be willing to talk about your issues and then to keep your own defensiveness in check. Finally, she emphasized knowing that it is okay to express your own feelings and opinions. 

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