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So background information. My sister, who is currently 16, has been living with me for the past couple years after some problems with our Mother arose. This past May we moved off base into a home with a work friend (he is 27), who was recently divorced and struggling to pay for his large home. In the home we all have our own rooms, separate living area like rooms, and bathrooms. We really only share the kitchen, but not food.

Since living with him relations between him and my sister have gotten quite bad. They argue constantly and can't be in the same room with each other without getting progressively more aggressive. When I'm alone with one or the other of them, they complain constantly about what the other has done recently. I'm worried without a way to mediate between them, my sister and I will have to move in order for her to keep her sanity. She has enough to stress about without all that house drama.

So far my advice to her was to completely avoid him when she is upset, and to instantly leave any room/conversation with him if they start to get heated. This is just avoidance though, and not a good long term fix.

My question for you all is: what can I do to mediate between these two people in order for our living arrangement to return to a more peaceful state?

Also important note, that the roommate and I are decent friends. He is never short with me, and we've only ever argued after a conversation between him and my sister went too far south - which he listened to, apologized to her, and then proceeded to sulk around the house for 2 weeks making everyone miserable.

Edit for questions: The living arrangement is expected to end in this coming July (about 6 months). We were only living there until we could find a more permanent home, and he is planning on retiring from the military in July and moving states.

Also the most common argument is about her not bringing her house key with her when she goes out, to martial arts or to a friends house. She will ring the door bell, his tiny dogs will lose their mind, and he will stomp his way to the door and let her in. This leads to him being gruff with her, and her losing her temper and being rude to him. My room is quite far from the front door, and unless she has the forethought to call me when she gets dropped off I will not make it there before him. Another common argument is about her not wanting to deal with his dogs, and not letting them out of their crates when she gets home. This upsets him and they argue about whose responsibility that is, and in this situation I think he is more in the right since they are living beings and it doesn't take much of her energy to put them outside when she gets home. So in short, they can both be the 'childish' one in these arguments - depending on what started the confrontation.

  • Do you have some kind of official arrangement here? It is supposed to be long-term, or was this supposed to be a temporary fix until he got a smaller house or you got a better one? – Erik Dec 20 '17 at 15:58
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    You left out some important details. Who is being unreasonable in these situations? Your friend must be a little older, as he's already been married and divorced. How old is he? Your sister being only 16, my instinct would be to say that she should probably be showing some respect to someone who is both older, and in whose house she is living. You may also wish to give us some examples as to the type of conflicts they engage in. It's difficult to be impartial in this sort of situation, but who starts the fights? Over what sort of things? Different situations call for different solutions – AndreiROM Dec 20 '17 at 15:58
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    I suspect part of the age difference is between your friend and your sister. Does you friend have any siblings or children of their own? I commend you greatly for helping your sister. I salute you! – Mister Positive Dec 20 '17 at 16:46
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    @IamNotListening My roommate does not have any siblings or children. And even before we moved in together he has mentioned that he never wants to have children, because he felt he wouldn't make an adequate father. There is an 11 year gap between them, and I don't think he knows enough about teenage girls to understand why her emotions are so volatile. – danninta Dec 20 '17 at 16:51
  • Which of them are you closer in age to? Are you legally responsible for your sister? Do you have parental-level authority over her, or have the two of you been acting like peers until now? Is the neighborhood safe, so that if she got locked out and had to sit on the curb for a while that wouldn't endanger her? Did the three of you make any agreements about the dogs? – Monica Cellio Dec 20 '17 at 18:01
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Having had 'complicated' roommate situations before myself, I feel your pain! As these people are both your friends (and family) it would certainly be ideal if the relationship could be restored to at least a semblance of peace.

Being that she is 16, and he has also made it clear that he does not like/relate to kids, it may not be possible to spark a friendship between them, but as they are both adults (or nearly there) it should be possible to at least lay aside the differences and agree to live civilly for the next several months.

It sounds like your roommate has some expectations as to how 'house rules' should go: don't ring the doorbell, let out my dogs etc. And your sister is not following them. If you are all paying equal rent, and that rent is solely based on monetary exchange (i.e. no one is doing housework etc. to lower their share) It really is only fair that no one can have any expectations of anyone else. Your sister not ringing the doorbell, or letting the dogs out when she gets home is at this point a favor that she is performing for the other roommate, not something that she is required to do. Pretty much anyone who has lived in an apartment building can relate that there is always that person with the screaming kids or the barking dogs or the TV that stays on till 2am, but unless the site management evicts them for it (unlikely), there really isn't anything else you can do about it besides find a new place to live. Your roommate is in a bit of the same situation. It's annoying to him, but as an equal member of the household he can't expect someone to change just because he finds their behavior annoying.

I would try to talk to them individually about it, bringing them together as a group may just rile them up more and have the opposite affect from what you are looking for. Explain to your sister that isn't your ideal situation either, but you both need to make the best of it, and it's certainly better than not having some place to stay! Try to relate to her and get her to understand where you are coming from, hopefully you are close enough with her that you can do so. If it goes well perhaps you can find one thing that she does that irritates your roommate and ask her to change the behavior as a sign that she is actively trying for peace. Sometimes even just an attitude change can be a good start.

Try talking to your roommate as well. Perhaps give him a little backstory as to why your had to move out of your moms -no details, just enough info to help him to understand the difficult spot that your sister was in. Him trying to tell her what to do might be giving her flashbacks of being back home and causing her to rebel more. Perhaps if he just got out a relationship he's a little on edge himself which is making them clash even more.

If you really want to go out of your way to make the peace you can try being extra pro-active (asking your sister to text you when she's on her way home so that you can unlock the door, letting his dogs out for him...) but at the end of the day it's not your responsibility to keep the peace and you can only do so much before you go crazy yourself. I have always found that with my younger sister (13 years younger) leading by example is one of the most effective ways. They take it for granted sometimes, but they do see it, and eventually it does make a difference.

I wish you all the best, and hopefully some of these suggestions might be of help! :)

  • Good advice on talking to them! One nitpick though, I wouldn't say they're all "equal members of the household" since the roommate is also the owner of the house. – Em C Dec 20 '17 at 18:50
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    My view of things is that the 16 year old living in someone else's house should definitely be trying her utmost to follow the very simple rules imposed by the house owner, rent or not. – AndreiROM Dec 20 '17 at 19:50
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Let's start with the key/doorbell thing first because that is a situation where right and wrong are quite clear, and there are practical solutions available. Your sister doesn't mind forgetting her key. That's normal for a child, but she's transitioning to adulthood now, and forgetting your key is not ok when you're an adult. Sit down and work with her on that, including asking her to come up with solutions. She could wear the key on a lanyard, buy a phone case that has little pockets she could keep the key in, hide another key outside, always check she has the key before leaving, or many other practical approaches. These all hinge on her agreeing that it's not ok to forget her key.

Second, when she has forgotten her key, it is not acceptable to ring the doorbell. That may have been an option at the parental home, or where the two of you lived before, but it is not an option in this home. Period. She can text you, she can sit on the doorstep until someone comes home to let her in, she can retrieve the hidden key, use it, and hide it again, but she cannot ring the doorbell. She needs to understand that if she keeps ringing the doorbell, the pair of you may end up homeless.

After you two have spoken, and you have come up with strategies for (a) never forgetting the key and (b) never ringing the doorbell after forgetting the key, you can talk to the room-mate. I would tell him that there is a plan in place and you're hoping to see immediate improvement on the doorbell front. Then ask him for some time on the letting-dogs-out thing, saying something like "I want to work on one thing at a time, teenagers can be stubborn."

The thing is, I suspect she sees the dogs as enemies right now. They keep "getting her in trouble" by barking when she rings the bell. She's not motivated to help them or respond to their requests to be let out. Once the whole key/doorbell nonsense is behind you, she might be able to show them a little common decency and let them out. But in a sulky "if you idiots would just realize it was me at the door and not bark" mode, she doesn't. So give it a week of successful no doorbelling and then see if letting the dogs out is something she can start doing.

After all, if the room-mate kicks you out, that will stop the doorbell situation immediately, but it won't get the dogs out of their cages any more often. So it's less of a deal-breaker situation. Always tackle the most urgent thing first. She can even learn from the first one that she can take steps to make life around her run smoother, and that this is not the same as backing down or losing.

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I think I'd try tackling them individually, with the aim of encouraging them to change how they view the various actions causing issues. For instance:

  • With your sister, tell her that she doesn't have to let the dogs out but it's nice to do so, especially when your housemate lets her in. She's old enough to be responsible for her keys - ringing the doorbell is better than paying a locksmith if she were to move out alone! You might also educate her on the advantages of temporarily making nice to folks you're stuck with for a short while.
  • Point out to your housemate that the dogs being let out by your sister is an advantage they wouldn't get if he lived alone, so no big deal if she doesn't, but if he was a bit less grumpy about letting her in she might do it more often.

Try and get them to view it as working together rather than antagonising each other.

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It looks like both of them are behaving childishly. Now, this is quite expected from a 16yo, but not from a 27yo. I mean, sulking around for two weeks for admitting he was wrong? Come on.

Despite this, I believe that it will be easier to point it out to your sister. While both teenagers and adults do not like been called out on being childish, the latter ones will find it a more outrageous offense than the former ones. Generally speaking, teenagers tend to want to grow up quickly; you can second this desire while telling her some means to improve her behavior.

  • Start by telling her that both of them are at fault and that the whole thing is rather childish.
  • Talk to her as if she were an adult; even better, declare it. Something like "I don't want to scold you, you're an adult and we can talk like adults do".
  • Then proceed to uncouple his behavior and her response to it: it is her choice to take as an offense what he says. Make her feel in power of her own emotions and not "carried away" by them. I think this is fundamental: you give her the key to carry less stress without him changing behaviour.
  • Then point out the (obvious) corrections to her behavior that would make life easier for everybody, that is to take her own keys and to open the crates of the tiny dogs. Underline the responsibility in this: adults behave as to decrease the frictions with others, not to increase them.

The overall tone of your speech should be encouraging, understanding and as if you were entrusting her with the responsibility of the atmosphere of the house, while not entirely responsible for its degradation.

Separately, you can do the same speech to your friend, of course skipping all the explicit statements about him being an adult. In particular, make it clear that little modifications of his behavior (just open that freaking door with no drama) can be of great benefit in the house. Underline with him as well the uncoupling of your sister's behaviour - his response to it.

In short, if you persuade at least one of them to behave as a grown-up, all the tensions will fade away.

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