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Iyar 5763 – Struggling With Roommates and Privacy

1 Iyar 5763

Dear Chana,

After being in seminary, one tried hard to work on her middos. Baruch Hashem the one thing I never had to really work on was my patience with my roommates. I had incredible roommates who never caused any problems.

We were always able to talk it out and work out any issue that might have come up. Now, I am dorming in a small room with four other girls and no personal space, and I find it quite hard to get along with my roommates. What makes it even harder is that one of my roommates has never really learned how to deal with people, and how to be in a social setting. I find it that she follows me all the time, will push herself into conversations that can be quite personal between myself and other close friends… I have thought of maybe approaching her, but I just don’t think she can really grasp the idea of “personal boundaries”.

Please help me with advice on how to deal with such a circumstance!

Thank you.
Name & Seminary Withheld Upon Request

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Dear JemSem Reader,

I am sure that this issue has been troubling you a lot. Living in close quarters with someone else [several someones in your case!] can be a truly challenging situation. I am a big believer in using “straight talk” when problems arise. One needs to be open and honest and really talk things through. Make a meeting with the girl who you are finding the most difficulties dealing with – or perhaps meet with each girl one by one or have a whole apartment meeting – or a combination of these options. Choose whatever you feel is the best for your situation.

You need to present the issues using an “I message.” What is an “I message?” It is the concept of wording your thoughts in a non-threatening way. A critical, blaming statement puts people on the defensive and certainly doesn’t help them want to do anything about what you are saying. You need to think out what you are feeling and put those emotions within the context of your statement. This helps them see how the situation is affecting you, and helps you avoid a name-calling and ridiculing message towards them. It would sound something like this:

“I have been feeling upset and anxious [or whatever your true emotions are] about the fact that there seems to be a blurring of each of our personal boundaries within the apartment.”

And then you could go on to explain more about the problem. That is a far better statement than:

“You have really made things difficult for me. You have pushed yourself into private conversations which have nothing to do with you.”

That is an unhealthy “You message”.

By wording things in a non-blaming fashion, it helps the situation to be discussed in a much more pleasant way. This is a wonderful tool to understand and incorporate into your interpersonal relationships, including talking with your spouse and your children. Conflict resolution is part of life.

You may want to sit and discuss solutions to the problems – with all parties offering possibilities. Sometimes people don’t realize that their actions are affecting others in a negative way or that that their behavior is inappropriate. Upon having things pointed out in a dignified manner, they are happy to work on the issue. Sometimes after a discussion it might feel for a bit like you are “walking on eggshells” – in a short time this will pass and you will all be better off for having had the discussion. If things are really “hairy” it may be a good idea to get an objective third party who can be a facilitator and make sure that the communication is going through to each in a clear way. The bottom line to remember is to be B’sever Panim Yoffos and to choose your words carefully and with sensitivity.

The other thing that you can do in conjunction with this is to change some of your own actions, and to reduce your expectations. If you know that a certain conversation will be very personal and private, meet with the person outside of your apartment as opposed to meeting in your apartment and being frustrated that you cannot seem to have a private conversation. Brainstorm with yourself and figure out ways for you to get more “private space”. Most situations have several options; it is only a matter of finding them and learning how to be flexible.

At the end of the day, remember that challenging situations help build us into who we need to be, giving us countless opportunities to develop our Middos and refine our characters.

Thanks for bringing up and important topic.

With Warmest Wishes,
Mrs. Chana Silver