In the Roommate (or Unilateral Decision-Maker) Style

Decision-making is unilateral. Each person makes decisions individually, without necessarily consulting the other. The expectation is that each person will adjust to the decisions made by the other. Opportunities for independence and individuality are high; interdependence is low. Emotional connections may happen frequently, intermittently, or very seldom, depending on each person’s choices at any given time. While there may be two whole individuals in the Roommate relationship, this style results in limited opportunities for intimacy building, at best.

Let’s look at the relationship of Rahlah and Jeremy

They met through mutual friends and have been married for four years. Jeremy is an architect, and except for a serious college romance, he had been fully engaged in his career until he met Rahlah. Like Jeremy, Rahlah is in her early thirties, and she owns a small dot-com company through which she has been making and selling specialty soaps for over ten years. Jeremy was attracted to many of Rahlah’s qualities, and he was especially impressed by her independence.

When Jeremy was offered a position with a prestigious firm on the East Coast, he was thrilled and accepted the offer without talking it over with his wife. Rahlah was delighted for him, and she was not in the least disturbed that her husband had not consulted her before making the decision to move several states away. Rahlah was confident that her business would do well “no matter where we live,” and she enjoys that her husband is “as independent as I am.” They have chosen to put off having children; Rahlah, however, thinks they should reconsider even having children at all due to her age. She is aware that having kids will require adjustments in their lifestyle and this concerns her:

I’m afraid we are both so independent—so focused on ourselves and our careers—that we won’t know how to work together if we have kids. I’m afraid I’ll end up taking care of the kids and the household even though I have a career, simply because we’ve never had to make decisions together or put anyone else’s needs before our own. I think we’d have to make a change in how we do things, but I’m not sure Jeremy sees the need for a change. He’s doing just what he’s always wanted to do and he loves his job. Even though he really wants a family, I’m afraid he might not face just how much time kids require. He just thinks it will all work out. I’m concerned I’ll have to pick up the slack and my needs will go on the back burner—not because he wants me to be overburdened or unhappy, but because it’s what he’s used to in our relationship. We’ve got it pretty good right now. I don’t want to end up resenting him—or the kids.

Neither Rahlah nor Jeremy is dissatisfied with the amount of connection and intimacy they currently have because they are both so involved with their work lives. When they do come together it is satisfying. Rahlah, however, is anticipating that if they have children she may desire more participation from Jeremy, as well as more connection and intimacy. If they do have children, the Roommate style of relating may no longer be satisfying.

Like Jeremy and Rahlah, partners in the Roommate style of relating come and go pretty much at will. This is done with the expectation that the other person, and maybe even the children, will make necessary adjustments without any discussion. Sometimes this works and people are happy with the outcome, but when it doesn’t work, at least one person will be left unhappy and, sometimes, unaware of what is wrong.

Learning to make decisions together—instead of working around one another’s decisions—may be just what this couple needs to explore.



Reflect on your own relationship.


Dr. Jan Hoistad