By Kyeland Jackson–

They walk among us, camouflaged under the cardinal symbol. They could be on your campus, in your classrooms. They could be in your very homes. I’m not talking about zombies or aliens. We’re talking about couples. The ones who have been in relationships for a long, long time.

They seem almost mythical to most, dating since the dawn of time where Nickelodeon cartoons and Yu-Gi-Oh! card collections roamed the lands. Ultimately, many people desire that long-term connection that could eventually lead to marriage. What keeps a relationship going?

The best people to answer these questions would be those very couples we see everyday. Craig Nichols and his partner Sam have been dating for two years. The two met in the LGBTQ center on campus and work for the same company now.

While things began slowly for the pair, Nichols stresses the importance of communication on their relationship.

“Try to become comfortable with communicating more openly about things, no matter what the topic is,” Nichols said. “You have to grow and learn to talk about things with each other.”

Because of conflicting schedules, the two can only see each other for hours in a day sometimes. But Nichols finds there is some silver-lining in their busy work lives.

“We don’t have that much time together and don’t have that time to argue,” Nichols said. Because of that, the two focus on spending their time together positively.

While couples like Nichols and his partner met on campus, some brought their relationships with them from high school. One student like that is Cai Black, who met her partner Naomi through marching band.

“We started dating in high school and went through the awkward stage of not being able to go anywhere without our parents,” Black said. “We waited two or three years before moving in together. So we found our quirks, habits and what got on each others nerves, and we found a way to work through it.”

Black and Naomi have been dating for four years. Black is also in agreement with Nichols, saying that some relationships fail because of bad communication.

They fail, she said, because of “bad communication; not being able to sit down without having an adult conversation.”

Which brings us to the question: what do we do with conflict?

Communication professor Kandi Walker specializes in healthy and interpersonal communication. She described healthy patterns for long relationships.

“The reason we break up is because of the fights we never have,” Walker said. “[It’s] not voicing what’s troubling you and not listening to the concerns of the partner.”

Not having these discussions sow the seeds of ruin for relationships. What begins as a small issue, like taking out the trash, suddenly blows up into feeling under appreciated and not valued. Walker says that it’s because of things not discussed, as well as expectations set when relationships begin, that they either flourish or die out.

“If you went into it thinking ‘This is going to be a great relationship, I have someone to share rent with who’s like minded.’  That’s different from ‘I’m doing this relationship to get married,'” Walker said. “You’ll have to look at your expectations, your goals and what you’re expecting from the other partner too.”

Walker’s advice holds true for Nichols and Black, who described multiple conflicts with their partners.

“We have our little arguments daily,” Nichols said. “We usually just sit down, calm down for 10 to 20 minutes by ourselves and then come back and talk calmly with each other to figure it out.”

Black and Naomi deal with their conflict a bit differently.

“We kind of hash it out for a while, then it cools down,” Black said. “If it’s dumb, and we realize it’s dumb, we compromise and do a quick game of rock, paper, scissors.”

Talking things out with your partner works for the better and makes couples that much more likely to last longer.

Ideally, it would lead you to that exalted status: the long-term relationship, the title which Brooke Sibraba and Connor McHugh have held the duration of their six year relationship.

“You can’t let your pride get in the way,” Sibraba said about conflicts. “Otherwise there’s no point of trying and it just builds up. You don’t want to let it get pent up.”

So what made these relationships work? When it comes down to it: talking and empathy. Tell them how you feel, discuss your problems and shortcomings, let your partner know that you care. It’s as simple as that.

In hopefully preparing you for the transformation from first date to six year anniversary, the couples left with words of advice to help make your relationship last:

“Make sure you talk,” Black said. “the dumbest thing can turn into the biggest argument if you don’t talk and express your feelings.”

Walker says, have fun together. “Keep creating novel situations where you both get to learn about yourselves and the relationship. Create new sparks and new ways to connect to your partner.”

Finally, Nichols says to make time for each other.

“Set out a day from the week where you’re going to go to dinner, or you’re going to do something with that person.” Nichols said. “Do them weekly so you don’t forget why you love that person and get so wrapped up in the work load or school load.”

So whatever your plans may be this valentines day, whether it be working like Brooke and Connor, a surprise dinner at work like Criag and Sam, or a home made dinner and movie after ice skating like Cai and Naomi, make time for your special someone.

If all goes well, maybe you’ll be one of those lurking couples among us too.