Eventually, most people give some thought to the inheritance they’ll leave when they die: the money, property, possessions. Maybe you’ve thought about how you, as an individual, want to be remembered when you’re gone—an intangible legacy that you’ll leave with others.

But have you thought about the legacy of your relationships? Have you considered that all your important relationships—especially a marriage or other lifetime relationships—leave a non-tangible yet enduring effect on others?

The legacy of relationships changes the world. Like all human beings, you live surrounded by the legacies of relationships that came before you. Relationships, not individuals, built the physical structures as well as the cultural and legal institutions that allow you to thrive.

We know a couple who have built a successful business that provides employment for a few hundred people and financial independence for themselves and their children (who now have key roles in the business) and their grandchildren. Equally important to them is the legacy they are leaving in the values their business embodies.

Another couple we are close to choose to live on a very modest scale inside a tradition of service to others. They see themselves as stewards of that tradition — a legacy they have received from past generations and want to pass on to the future.

What is the legacy of your relationships? Is it positive? Or do your relationships leave people with diminished hope for their own relationships?

This summer, a Relationship by Design vacation workshop gathered a group of curious participants to explore these questions. Together, we considered how our relationships affect others day by day.  Everyone in our group noticed that in addition to individual achievements we may make, we wish to leave a legacy that is a product of our relationships.

We were having these conversations aboard a ship that was visiting the fjords of Norway, so perhaps it was inevitable that we would compare the legacy of a relationship to the wake of a ship moving through the water. Behind the ship, you might first notice the turbulent strip of froth left by the propellers. But you’ll also notice the bow wave—a powerful, resonant movement of water that spreads in a widening V and keeps expanding farther than your eye can see.

Are your relationships leaving lots of turbulence in their wake? Or do you notice that your relationships—especially those that are most precious to you—leave something more like a wave, something that moves others and may be felt when the relationship that set it in motion is far out of sight?

Participants in the workshop left with another enduring insight from our week together: the legacy of our relationship is being created in every moment. Unlike the financial inheritance we leave, which belongs to us until the day we die, the legacy of our relationship is held by others, starting right now.

This article, for example, could be seen as a small part of our legacy — an intangible gift that we leave with others. But while we’ve written it with care, the words are not the legacy. The legacy is how people like you who read the words will receive these ideas, consider them in the light of your own lives, and make them part of your own view of relationship.

Would it be worth putting some of your attention on the legacy that your relationships are leaving day by day? What is the legacy of your marriage? Or of your relationships with family? What is the legacy of your business relationships and your friendships? If all your relationships are leaving a legacy as you pass through life, what will you see if you turn your attention to what your relationships are leaving, your legacy to others and to the future?

We would be delighted to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Paul and Carol

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