After Marianne Gingrich told The Washington Post and ABC News that her ex-husband, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, had asked her for an “open marriage” as he was making speeches about family values, Newt erupted angrily.

Republican presidential candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his wife, Callista, mingle with members of the audience following his participation in the Republican presidential candidates debate in Charleston, S.C. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

Despite Gingrich’s attempt to end the questioning on the topic, plenty of people are asking about “open marriage” — an agreement between consenting partners that they can seek affection outside of the marriage. It’s become the latest buzzworthy phrase du jour to describe political philandering, after “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” and ”Wide Stance.” What does an actual open marriage take for it to work — and should Gingrich be pilloried for asking for one?

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax weighed in on a reader inquiry about open marriage in a December live chat. “I think open marriages are a  great idea when the two people in them both think it’s a great idea,” wrote Hax. However, that wasn’t the case for the reader she was advising, whose husband was pressuring her for an open marriage because he wasn’t getting enough sex now that his wife was seven months pregnant.

Nor was it the case for Marianne Gingrich, who said that she was not interested in a open marriage. “He said the problem with me was I wanted him all to myself,” Gingrich said. “I said, ‘That’s what marriage is.’ He said [of Callista], ‘She doesn’t care what I do.’ ”

Carolyn Hax advised her pregnant reader: “I hope you have your finances in order, because I have no reason to believe you aren’t married to a taker of epic proportions, and that rarely ends well.” It did not end well for the Gingriches, either, with Marianne describing her divorce as “ugly.”

However, for the right kind of couple, an open marriage can work. Advice columnist Dan Savage is chronicling the successes of the “monogamish,” a word he coined to describe polygamy and open marriage arrangements, and announced that he is considering writing a book about the topic. Wrote Savage:

Why do most people assume that all nonmonogamous relationships are destined to fail? Because we only hear about the ones that do. If a three-way or an affair was a factor in a divorce or breakup, we hear all about it. But we rarely hear from happy couples who aren’t monogamous, because they don’t want to be perceived as dangerous sex maniacs who are destined to divorce.

Gingrich’s suggestion for an open marriage does not fit this bill, Savage acknowledges. In a blog post on Thursday, Savage explained that you aren't asking for an open marriage when you're already having an affair.  “You’re presenting your wife with an ultimatum,” he wrote.