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A housemate getting passive-aggressive can make you want to move time zones away. You may be familiar with sneak attacks by roommates, like procrastinating on emptying the trash, the silent treatment, and snarky texts. “It always feels easier to ‘hint’ when it come to conflict,” says Rhonda Richards-Smith, a relationship expert and psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California. “However, this behavior can be misleading and is often misinterpreted. It assumes the person on the receiving end can read your mind which they simply cannot.” Here’s how to cope with the passive-aggressive housemate in your life—and how not to be the passive-aggressive one in someone else’s.

Chore wars

Example: “I was super busy with school and work and forgot to do my dishes, so one of my roommates bagged up the dishes and put them out in the hall. He put a note on the door for everyone to see.”
—Brandon L., first-year student, San Bernardino Valley College, California

How to react?

  • If the “house rules” say it’s your week to do the dishes and you honestly can’t, give your housemate a heads up.
  • “Talk to your roommate directly about how their behavior is impacting you,” says Richards-Smith. Find the right time.

How to prevent it

  • Don’t gang up with one roommate against another. This could make the isolated roommate defensive and drive them to acts of sabotage.
  • Don’t try to “win.” It’s more important to move past this and stay civil.
  • When talking with your housemate, use LARA:
    • Listen and keep eye contact.
    • Acknowledge: repeat their statements
      back to them.
    • Respond: address their concerns.
    • Add important points that haven’t been raised (e.g., a mutually agreed-upon solution).

+ The Department of State’s diplomatic guide to “I messages”

Stickies mark my territory

Example: “One of my roommates left small sticky notes around the apartment stating what my other roommate and I could or could not touch. This not only felt demeaning, but caused tension when the concern stated in the note was minor.”
—Anya N.*, third-year graduate student, Wayne State College, Nebraska

How to react?

  • “Call a meeting. You may come to a better understanding of one another,” says Richards-Smith.
  • Don’t get personal. Calling someone insane or uptight may seem true, but no good will come of it.
  • The more you practice emotional self-control, the easier you can stay calm.

How to prevent it

  • Do you share everything or just the rent? Talk, so you know where they stand. Using stuff without permission can feel invasive to your roommate.
  • If your housemate has a “borrowing” problem, consider moving your stuff into your room. Respectfully explain why.
  • In some cases, let it slide—like if your housemate occasionally swipes a squirt of ketchup.

+ Find inspiration in Pinterest boards on roommate organization

Roomie not kid-friendly

Example: “Despite my requests, my roommate repeatedly had his girlfriend over on days I had visitation with my son. He was five, and they were very inappropriate around him. They would loudly engage in certain activities all night long. One night my son got up to get a drink around 3 a.m., and they were traipsing around in minimal clothing.”
—First-year online undergraduate student; name and school withheld

How to react?

  • If you confront your roomie, it’s good for both of you to take a seat. This can cool down your body language.
  • ”When a roommate makes you feel uncomfortable and proves to be irresponsible and disrespectful repeatedly, trust your gut and move out,” says Richards-Smith.

How to prevent it

  • Earplugs and a fan (for white noise) are the Batman and Robin of drowning out things you don’t want to hear.
  • Share with your housemate what’s important to you, such as your five-year old not seeing him unclothed.

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