How to Break Up with Your Roommate, According to a Licensed Therapist

Claire Nicholas

By Claire Nicholas

Jun 17, 2024

If you haven’t had a bad roommate, you know someone who has. Being roommates with someone requires you to live extremely close to them, and there are countless ways differing lifestyles and habits can come between two people. Your roommate doesn’t have to be your best friend, but when you’re sharing a living space, those lifestyle and habit differences can become amplified and get messy. Sometimes, these differences — household responsibilities, expense splitting, noise levels — come with the possibility of compromise, even if after a difficult conversation. But, other times, two people discover they just aren’t compatible as roommates. 

So, when the end of the lease approaches, be brave and do what’s best for both (or all) of you: Decide to find a new living arrangement with new roommates. It’s not ideal, but worry not. We brought in mental health professional Kathleen Sheffield, LPC, LCMHC, of At The Root Counseling & Wellness, PLLC in Cary, North Carolina, to guide you on the path to ending your old roommate-ship and move on to a new and better one.  

Before the Breakup: Employing Mindfulness and Reason

Often, the most difficult part of a housemate breakup is ruminating on the decision and anticipating the conversation — not unlike the breakup of a romantic relationship. Sheffield tells us that practicing mindfulness can help during this stage.

“It is important to tune into your feelings and listen to what they may have to tell you about yourself, a situation you’re in, or a person you are in a relationship with,” she says.  

The true key to accessing mindfulness, Sheffield says, is tuning into your feelings without judging yourself. If you’re trying to discern whether it is in fact time to break up with your roomie, first evaluate your feelings about the situation without leaving room for judgment. Sheffield offers this example as awareness without judgment: I often feel anxious or upset when I’m spending time at my apartment, and it’s impacting my overall well-being at home.

“This approach helps to increase our awareness of feelings with less confusion about what to do,” she says. 

Where we can run into confusion is when we allow self-judgment to be a catalyst for inner conflict: I’m such an awful person if I break up with my roommate. This can especially be the case if you and your roommate are close friends or family members. “When we add judgment, we become uncertain and confused about the next step.”  

Another tool you can use to prepare for a roommate breakup is tracking and reflecting on your feelings using journaling or conversation with a trusted friend. Sheffield recommends bringing these questions into the conversation:  

  • How long have I been feeling this way?  
  • Is there anything else external or unrelated to my roommate that may be amplifying my feelings (stress, hormones, trust issues, mental health issues, or past trauma)?  
  • Am I in a similar situation with many others in my life?  
  • How often is this happening?  

Finally, before starting the conversation with the roommate in question, Sheffield suggests checking that emotions aren’t the only factor leading us to make our decision.

“Considering our emotional mind, what are my feelings telling me, and our ‘reasonable’ mind, what are the facts, helps us get to our ‘wise mind,’ which is where we want to make decisions,” she says. 

Emotional mind: I feel so angry, he/she is the worst, I want to leave this lease!  

Reasonable mind: This was the first time this issue happened, I was very stressed from work, and my roommate apologized. 

Wise mind: Maybe I should hold off the breakup and work on conflict resolution first.

During the Breakup: Keeping Compassion and Validation Close

When it comes time to have the breakup conversation, Sheffield says it’s important to keep a certain mindset so that the conversation is effective and so that all parties’ feelings are heard and validated. First, it helps to make sure you’re in the right headspace. 

“Consider your own vulnerability factors — hunger, hydration, stress, past trauma, fatigue, sobriety — and approach this conversation when you are grounded,” she says. And don’t forget: Be sure that it’s a good time for your roommate, too.   

Coming from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, Sheffield says the DEAR MAN acronym is especially helpful for carrying out difficult conversations. Here’s how it works: 

Describe. Describe (non-judgmentally and clearly) the facts of the situation from your perspective. For example, “I don’t think our current living situation is working,” not “you are a terrible roommate to live with.”  

Express. Express your feelings using “I” statements instead of “you” statements to avoid placing blame on the other party. For example: “I have been feeling upset, frustrated, and anxious” instead of “You’re making me upset, frustrated, and anxious.”  

Assert. Assert your needs by clearly stating what you need. For example: “I need to end the lease in September.” 

Reinforce. Reinforce anything positive. For example: “I really appreciate you letting me share this with you and for all the efforts that you’ve made. I know living with someone can be tough and I’m not perfect.” 

Mindful. Stay mindful of the goal. 

Appear. Appear confident and calm. 

Negotiate. Negotiate if needed. It may be necessary to be flexible in your expectations. 

If your roommate argues or is offended even after you approach the conversation using the DEAR MAN method, Sheffield recommends turning to the concept of validation. “Validation can be a really powerful way to help manage strong emotions in challenging interpersonal situations,” she says. Validation involves having the know how to make sense of the other person’s experience. 

Validating your roommate’s experience doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or change your mind. “Validation says to your roommate, ‘I understand why you would be angry, it makes sense that you’d feel frustrated since I did tell you I would renew last time we spoke about this,’” Sheffield says.

If validation doesn’t help to deescalate the situation, it’s always okay to take a pause and revisit the conversation when both parties are feeling more grounded. 

“Ways to tell if things are escalating are if one or either of you can no longer stay seated, if one or either of you cannot keep a reasonable tone or volume, and if name calling or swearing is becoming more prevalent,” she says.  

 Tip: Try to have as many of these exchanges as possible in person or on the phone. “Communicating by text increases the likelihood for misunderstanding and miscommunication,” Sheffield says.  

After the Breakup: Facing Facts and Remaining Non-judgmental

After you have that tough conversation with your roommate — and before you move out of your apartment — there’s likely to be tension or awkwardness at first. Additionally, you may have other negative feelings threatening to break through. Sheffield says that one of the best ways to cope with this post-breakup energy is to see it for what it is and accept it. 

“Naming directly that this is tough and that there is or may be awkwardness can help,” she says. “Being as direct as possible and observing patterns of avoidance can be effective to dissolve awkwardness.” For example, the more you avoid cooking in the kitchen while your roommate is home, the more awkward it may feel to walk into the kitchen. So, instead, it can help to face it head on.  

Additionally, we can use humor to dissolve awkwardness. That being said, we have to use humor with care. “We have to be very careful with humor as it is subjective, easily misinterpreted, and your roommate may not be ready for it,” Sheffield says. “[Humor] is a spice we use carefully and sparingly.” 

If you’re struggling with feelings of guilt, Sheffield says it all comes back to remaining non-judgmental of your own feelings.

“Self-compassion is important whenever guilt is coming up,” she says. “What would I say to a loved one or friend in the same situation? Can I offer myself that same amount of understanding?”  

If your guilt persists, you may consider asking yourself questions about the deeper root of this emotion. For example: Do I believe I should never upset another person? Do I believe I’m only worthy of peace when others are happy with me? Am I afraid of conflict?

“Sometimes guilt is living off of unhealthy or limiting beliefs,” Sheffield says. “These may be important questions to explore with a therapist who can help you identify and work with some of those beliefs.”  

At the end of the day, Sheffield says that feeling emotionally regulated in these difficult situations often requires an understanding that what you’re going through is normal and very common — and that you will likely learn from it.

“It really is challenging to live with someone else and it makes sense that at some point it may no longer be working,” she says. “At some point this will have been a really important experience that gave you hard but meaningful life experiences about navigating relationships, hard conversations, advocating for your needs, and making tough changes for the good.” 

Moving On: How to Find a Compatible Roommate

Unsure whether or not your lifestyle will align with a potential roommate? Take our Roommate Compatibility Quiz. It’s free, takes less than 5 minutes, requires no sign up — and will tell you your personality traits as a roommate. Find out what type of roommate you are and what type you'd best live with — whether you’re in a residence hall or your first New York apartment.

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