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Preventing Roommate Syndrome

Based on the webinar Preventing Roommate Syndrome: Balancing Love and Everyday Life presented by Genesis Games, LMHC on October 12, 2023.

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Life is busy. Our romantic relationships usually start with a lot of passion and exciting intimacy but often times fades over time as the rigors of life kick in. Roommate syndrome is the term used to describe this dynamic in couples where their relationship has become an arrangement lacking romantic love and affection.

Roommate problems

Genesis Games, LMHC, a therapist with a practice in Florida, describes the types of issues you might encounter living with a roommate as: 

  • Household chores
  • Paying bills
  • The use of common areas

These problems don’t provide an opportunity for growth because they are logistical in nature and become a distraction from relational issues. However, it is very important to address them as they have a huge impact on the relationship. 

Games describes some of the negative effects that result from roommate problems:

  • Tension and disconnection
  • Distraction from more important issues 
  • Sense of not being adequate or “good enough”
  • Parent-child dynamic develops over time
  • Decrease in fondness and admiration 
  • Lack of support and resentment due to mental load and/or lack of appreciation

Resolving problems

The good news is that roommate problems tend to be solvable with the right kind of dialogue and communication. If you find yourself getting upset, it is important to practice self soothing like deep breathing and taking a mindfulness break.

While having a conversation about a roommate problem, use the following practices to increase the chances of a positive outcome:

  • Team approach 
  • Accountability and curiosity
  • Accepting influence 
  • Focus on the issue and not your partner’s character
  • Provide potential solutions and compromise

Preventing roommate syndrome is imperative to then be able to move on to the deeper relational issues that can create more love and connection.

Relational problems

Genesis Games describes relational problems as ones that have to do with our core values and identity. Conversations around relational problems can come up on a regular basis because they don’t have a simple solution. These problems require repeated conversations and attempts at compromise because they are connected to deeper, more meaningful parts of your identity.

Here are some examples:

  • Togetherness vs independence 
  • Relational pace
  • Boundaries with extended family 
  • Sexual desire and preferences 
  • Parenting styles
  • Finances and spending habits
  • Religious or cultural differences 
  • Navigating a mental or physical health diagnosis

These problems can result in emotional distance between partners and feelings of rejection and resentment. They can have a significant negative impact that leads to an erosion of the relationship.

Luckily there are some antidotes to these problems! First there must be emotional safety in the relationship as well as a strong foundation of knowing each other’s worlds (Gottman term is ‘love maps’). The Gottman method Dreams within Conflict exercise is a great intervention for couples to use on their own or with the support of a therapist.

Preventing roommate syndrome is important for couples to address as they balance everyday life with other responsibilities. When they can successfully address these types of issues, they will be able to focus on increasing their emotional intimacy and connection.

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Kendra is the Director of Couples Services at The Gottman Institute. She currently oversees couples workshops, webinars and the relationship blog. Prior to her work at Gottman, she worked in non-profits in South King County and the Bronx, NY. She received a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University.

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