We all have an ideal roommate; someone who respects our boundaries, feels like a best friend, and is a breeze to live with. However, reality doesn’t always turn out this way. A toxic person can seem charming but be manipulative and energy-draining once you start living with them. If you’ve found yourself in a situation with a toxic roommate and you can’t break the lease immediately, you understandably want some solutions.
To help you manage your interactions and living arrangement, here are 10 tips on how to deal with a toxic roommate. Some of them might help solve the problems you are facing, while others will help you stay sane as you prepare for a new roommate.
How to deal with a toxic roommate
Don’t let toxic roommates ruin your home experience. Try these 10 tips to help manage the situation and remember your roommate’s toxicity is not your fault!
1. Initiate a discussion
It’s best not to ignore your roommate’s toxic behaviors, especially since it’s impacting your well-being and living space. Bringing up the issue is a great way to figure out a solution for both of you. However, how you approach the conversation is key.
Try not to complain, make one-sided accusations, or personally attack your roommate. Instead, frame the conversation as a discussion on living policies and ask for their input on how living arrangements can be improved. Use I statements, speak calmly, and clearly explain your reasons for why you want something changed.
2. Create a roommate contract
Roommate contracts are agreements you come up together with your roommate around the living arrangements. It’s best to create one when you first move in together, but if you don’t have one and are dealing with a toxic roommate, it’s probably time to get one drafted together.
Initiating a conversation around living preferences and expectations makes it more of a discussion than a complaint. The contract can also be revised when future conflicts come up, making it a great way to bring up a problem without seeming like an attack.
3. Suggest solutions
In an ideal situation, roommates who hear about problems will want to work together to come up with solutions. However, when having a discussion with a toxic roommate, it’s better if you provide solutions to the issues you are facing. Come up with some easy ideas that you present alongside the issue.
For example, suppose your roommate keeps eating food you’ve bought. Instead of saying, “you always eat my food and that needs to stop,” try saying, “since you sometimes eat my food, I was thinking we could have a communal snack cupboard or split grocery costs. What do you think?’ If they refuse your solutions, you can try getting creative, such as purchasing a snack lockbox for items you’ve bought and don’t want to share.
4. Stop negative talk when it comes up
One characteristic of toxic people is their love of gossip and dwelling on the negative. If your roommate commonly has negative outbursts or trash talks other people to you, disengage or change the subject. You can even choose to ignore your roommate or leave the room.
Instead of seeing you as someone they can have outbursts to, they are more likely to realize you’re not worth talking to about these issues. Sometimes people simply seek attention, even if it’s negative attention, so ignoring them and showing they can’t get a rise out of you is a powerful skill. If your roommate has an issue with something you do, make it clear you only want to communicate in the form of a discussion to seek solutions.
5. Have a list of good escape places
It’s okay to need a break from your toxic roommate and escape your living space. It doesn’t mean they “win.” It’s a great way to maintain your peace of mind, so you’ll be calm when you approach them for discussions.
Make a list of easily accessible, relaxing, and safe places you can go to for a getaway. You can even pick up a new out-of-the-house hobby. Ideas include:
- A nearby park
- 24-hour cafes
- A fitness or yoga class
- Co-working spaces
- The local library
6. Don’t pick up their housework slack
If the issue with your roommate is they don’t do their share of the housework, resist the temptation to do the extra cleaning. By picking up their slack once they are more likely to manipulate you to do so continuously in the future. Let them know you aren’t playing into those games by sticking to your agreed-upon house chores.
If you don’t already have one, make a list of how the chores are split. When your roommate isn’t doing their part, refer to the list and ask them if they want to discuss shifting the chore items since they clearly aren’t doing what they are currently assigned.
7. Try to empathize
Sometimes it can help to try and understand the situation from your roommate’s point of view. Adopting some empathy can help you better understand your roommate’s behavior and you might realize they aren’t intentionally doing things out of malice. Approaching a situation with empathy makes it easier to come up with workable solutions.
However, remember that this tip doesn’t mean bad behavior is excusable. It just means there are two sides to a situation. For instance, if your roommate constantly lashes out at you, that isn’t something you should have to put up with.
It’s possible they grew up in an angry household and need help learning how to manage their emotions. Having empathy and understanding this can help the situation feel less like a personal attack.
8. Be firm with your boundaries
When dealing with a toxic roommate, you have to be clear and firm about where your boundaries lie. Don’t romanticize the situation and let them get away with inappropriate things. The more you push under the rug, the more frustration will build up over time.
As previously mentioned, empathy helps with coming up with solutions or being calmer about why they do things. However, this doesn’t give them an excuse not to try and improve on their behavior or commit to solutions that can make the living situation better for both of you. Being firm and fair is possible and healthier in the long run.
9. Block them out with headphones
Sometimes toxic roommates are not responsive to discussions and it’s clear it’s time to find a new roommate. Buying a good pair of noise-cancellation headphones or earphones is a good short-term solution to help get you through the days or months it takes to transition. This band-aid solution works best if your main issue with your roommate is their constant noise or they don’t respect quiet hours.
10. Plan your exit strategy
A home should feel safe, relaxing, and comfortable. If you’re constantly dreading going home or having interactions with your roommate, it’s time to plan your exit strategy. Figure out how long your lease is for or if you can find someone to sublease. You can even start placing ads for new roommates and new locations to live in.
Whatever you do, don’t renew the lease. You deserve a non-toxic roommate for a better living space. Once you’re at the stage of selecting a new roommate, make sure to meet with them first. In a casual interview, ask them about their living arrangement preferences and try to identify toxic red flags before you agree to live with them.