Since our home has recently added three new people (my fiancé and his two sons) and a cat, lifestyle habits and roommate issues are top of mind. One of my clients mentioned feeling challenged with her roommate as well.

I know from countless podcasts and relationship books that little issues like, “Why didn’t you pick up your socks?” are really covers for bigger issues like, “I don’t feel respected.”

Why we need space

Over my lifetime I’ve had quite a few roommates. I got along well with most of them. Our personalities and lifestyles meshed. But with almost everyone, except my college roommate Emilie, there came a time when I needed space from them.

I loved being with Emilie. I think Emilie was very secure. She made me feel good. We talked and laughed. She was neat. We did our homework together in the same room. No problems. Come to think of it, I probably bothered her. I had the more challenging personality.

I still need my space from time to time, most definitely. I think growing up playing the role of the “good girl” and the one who stuck up for my mom and tried to make her life easy, made it hard for me to voice my displeasure with others. Therefore, it is easier to get away from them then tell them what I need or do not like.

I also grew up with a dominant sister and married an aggressive man. I challenged my sister and it was miserable. We fought way too much. I learned it was easier to avoid and not challenge others.

Expect backlash 

As I’ve matured and went through therapy, I’ve learned how to voice my needs again. Now there is defensiveness in our home when I speak up. I had learned to deal with backlash from my kids. Of course, they don’t like it when I make them clean up after themselves. I’m strong enough to take their disgruntled attitudes. I know their insecurities and the reasons they blame other people and things for their shortcomings or failures.

Why it hurts so much from our significant others

Getting defensiveness from Mark is different. It hurts more. I expect resolution when I voice concerns with him. I expect a willingness to hear me and consider my perspective. Dr. Stan Tatkin (Wired for Love) says secure partners make our concerns their concerns. I expect him to be on my side.

When he does not help, I feel like I’m on my own again, like I was quite often as a young person.

Boundaries then finesse

I admit, I am new to voicing my needs and beliefs. I have not mastered the wording. I am aware of that. My first priority has been to learn to enforce personal boundaries, to not let others bulldoze me. Finessing the delivery is a work in progress.

Old wounds resurface

I believe it is the hardest with Mark to work through roommate issues because we trigger each other’s biggest attachment issues. This is common between partners. I see it all the time with clients.

As I’ve mentioned many times, I have a strong reaction to being left alone to take care of many things. I had to be emotionally and financially self-reliant growing up. In the past, I was afraid to ask for help. I thought I was weak to need it. I feared that my request for help would be rejected or not heard anyway.

Now, I ask for help more. I sometimes subconsciously disguise my requests for help with complaints. I assume if I complain about something, Mark will know it is something he needs to help me with. Complaints, of course, just ignite his defensiveness.

What’s really behind the complaint?

So when I say, “Waking up to dirty dishes in the sink starts my day off badly” he comes back with excuses for why they are there, instead of hearing the comment as a plea for help and respect.

The dishes in the sink issue arose because I asked for quiet in the morning because our bedroom is right off the kitchen — another time I advocated for myself. Emptying the dishwasher and putting in dirty dishes is noisier than just leaving dirty dishes in the sink, but leaving a pile of dirty dishes for me every morning is not a good solution.

What do you really want?

There are a lot of self-help books that say people don’t always want solutions when they vent. They just want someone to listen.

I want solutions and action. My childhood conditioning makes me want help and action.

As Mark and I spend more time in the same household, we gain understanding of each other and our attachment issues. We each have 50 years of conditioning behind us. It is not going to be easy. It helps to know that almost every complaint is a hidden request for connection. Connection heals attachment wounds.

What are your everyday complaints hiding? What is the real message you would like to convey? How are your previous hurts surfacing in your relationships? 

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash


couple on bench

If you’re feeling insecure or have anxiety about your connection with your partner, my online course, Attachment: Moving from Insecurity to Security within a Relationshipcan help. If you’d rather speak with me directly, I encourage you to schedule a coaching session with me by clicking here. I look forward to working with you!