Anyone who’s lived with a roommate knows that communal living can be tough. It’s no different for vowed religious.
However, some groups manage to make community work and even find it fruitful: one group of Dominican Sisters of Hope has shared a living space –along with a common sense of mission, community, and prayer life– since 1970. To be sure, they faced hard times and disagreements, but they’ve stuck together. Forty-five years later, the Guzman Community (Sister Agnes Boyle, Sister Barbara Hamilton, Sister Francis Irene Fair, Sister Janice Dionne, and Sister Catherine Walsh) still stands, and they’re all the better for it.
Below, Sister Catherine Walsh, a member of the Guzman Community mentioned above, shares her secrets to living together happily, whether you’re in it for the long haul or just for the semester.
1. Consider your own actions
Among other things, living with another person is like living with a mirror: you see the good, the bad, and the ugly. Is it possible that you’re guilty of the very things that you find annoying about the other person? “When I dislike something very intensely, it’s because I also do it,” Sister Catherine says.
Before you think about the other person, step back and look at yourself. What are you doing to contribute to the problem? How can you make small changes
2. Remember that you are in control
Although living struggles sometimes feel like they’re out of our control, Sister Catherine says that it’s imperative to remember that “you’re in control of this.”
“You’re teaching your roommate how to behave just as kids teach their parents how to behave,” Sister Catherine says.
When kids don’t do their chores, they’re teaching their parents to be angry with them. How are you teaching your roommate to be angry at, short with, or less-than kind to you? Moreover, how can you adjust your actions to “teach” him/her to be forgiving, understanding, and patient?
3. Talk it out, but don’t talk about everything
After you’ve thought about what you’re doing to contribute to the problem, try to talk some of the things out.
“Don’t try to talk about everything,” Sister Catherine advises.
Spouting a list of wrongdoings during mediation has a high potential to insult the other person and close down the conversation. Instead, choose one thing that’s really irking you and see if you can have a discussion with your roommate to resolve it.
4. Get out of it, if you need to
Sometimes, there are irreconcilable differences. If it’s two personalities that just aren’t going to work, you have to make a change.
The good news is: it’s only a roommate! The lease or living situation will expire eventually, and you can expedite that shift.
“It’s not a sacramental union,” Sister Catherine says. “If you need to, as a last resort, you can break this up.”