Communication is the Key to a Happy Dorm Room

It’s hard to believe that another semester and year of college is almost over. The places and people on campus that seemed so unfamiliar a few months ago, are now a regular part of life. You’ve finally mastered all those acronyms unique to your college - the ones that everyone else seemed to know when you arrived and you hoped you’d figure out without having to ask anyone what they meant. And the roommate you tip-toed around for the first few months is now like family - which can be good and bad! You’ve probably become accustomed to each other’s idiosyncrasies and tolerate them until you don’t, and patience runs out, the silent treatment ensues, or an all out argument erupts. Maybe you’re more godly than me, but I have found the idiom to be true in my life that familiarity can indeed breed contempt. It can be easy to lose respect for someone the more comfortable you are with them. 

A dorm room is a microcosm of life, revealing our sin as we struggle to have a relationship with someone else who struggles with sin. Their sins, and ours, are another means God uses to help refine us and shape us to become more like Jesus. It’s rarely a pleasant process but what is gained is more valuable than the discomfort of dealing with conflict. 

At the beginning of every semester when you get a key to your dorm room, I think it would be a helpful reminder to have it imprinted with the word “communication”. Learning to communicate is the key to a happy dorm room. You can have the best gaming system, the most stylish decorations, the best french press and well-stocked mini-fridge, and the most fairly divided up spaces, but if you don’t have good communication, that dorm room will be a very unhappy place. 

I used the phrase “learning to communicate” in the last paragraph because communication really is a skill you have to learn. Like most other skills you develop, it takes a lot of practice, some failing, and a lot of persistence.

Although there are unique circumstances, most conflicts arise from the same foundational issues. Here’s a list of advice, questions, and ideas that might be helpful in developing good communication skills that will serve you well now and in the future.


Remember that the way we speak (or don’t) is a reflection of what is in our hearts. We can try to perfect communication skills, but without a heart that loves God and others, the results will be limited. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45 NLT)


Try not to make assumptions and write your own narrative about the person’s character and why they do what they do. Once you’ve done those things, it’s hard to give your roommate the benefit of the doubt. You tend to interpret everything you see and hear according to the narrative you’ve written.


When deciding whether an issue is worth addressing, it’s good to ask, “Can grace cover it?” Everything that annoys or offends us isn’t worth bringing up. If it’s something that is an ongoing struggle for you though, it probably needs to be dealt with.


Don’t hope the problem will go away. It probably won’t and you run the risk of letting your frustration levels build to a dangerous level.


Have room meetings to evaluate the way things in the room are going - the positive things and brainstorming changes that need to be made.


Try to keep other times focused on relationship building, encouragement, getting to know each other, fun, etc.


Recognize God is using you both to teach and grow each other. It is a mutually beneficial relationship!


Try to introduce some spiritual/devotional dynamic you can unite over like a prayer request board so you can be upholding each other and following up on significant things going on in each other’s lives.


Fill out getting to know you notecards. This would be most helpful at the beginning of a semester. Ask questions like:
Are you a morning person/night owl?
Cold/hot sleeper?
Light/heavy sleeper?
Shower in AM or PM?
White noise/quiet?
A little light/completely dark?
Study in room/go elsewhere?
Air freshener/diffuser/nothing?
Verbal processor/written processor?

Also find out their favorites so you can bless them:
Do to relax?
Encouragement - gifts, time, practical help?
Recharge - with people/alone?

Here is an example of a roommate agreement. Although something this official isn’t necessary, it does incorporate some of the information above and might be beneficial in laying a good foundation for practically functioning together in a shared space.


Once an issue is resolved, don’t use it as ammo for future conflicts. Ask God to help you forgive even when it’s hard to forget.


Focus on blessing and serving each other in the room and outside of it - maybe volunteer together at a campus event or somewhere off campus.


Cultivate sensitivity to their needs (stress, financial burdens, home dynamics, deadlines approaching, academic struggles, etc.). Asking, “Is there anything I can do to help you this week?” would be such a bridge-builder and load-lifter.


Allow people to change and be willing to make adjustments.


If you have a concern they’re doing something that is harmful to them or others, approach with observations out of concern. Use wording like, “It seems” and “I wondered” instead of accusing them out of anger. Bring in outside help if necessary.


Stay up on your own laundry, cleaning, organizing, etc. Take the “beam” out of your own eye first!


Remember you don’t have to be best friends with your roommate. If all you do is lovingly share a room together for a year/semester, that is fine. You don’t have to have a close relationship with everyone. God wants us to love others, not be best friends with them.


Even though the person you see is frustrating you, they really aren’t who the battle is against. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV) Remembering this can help you extend grace to them and use the powerful tool of prayer to bring about peace.


Your roommate is made in the image of God and worthy of kind, respectful treatment because of that.


Boundaries are good and so is self-sacrifice. It takes wisdom to know which is required in different circumstances. Bringing another person into the situation can be helpful for an unbiased perspective and advice.


Don’t waste the opportunity to love and grow through a great roommate situation or a difficult one. The year or semester will be over before you know it, but the wisdom gained, skills developed, and spiritual investment made can bear fruit long after.