Dear Em & Lo, What Books Are a Good Intro to Open Relationships?

Dear Em & Lo,

I would like to find literature that I can give to my wife,  on encouraging her to pursue non-monogamous relationships, as this could be good for our relationship. We are a mature couple and I think she and we could benefit from this.

Thanks kindly,


Dear O.M.,

First, are you absolutely sure you think a non-monogamous relationship will benefit you both? Or will it really just benefit you? Are you sure she’s into the idea too, or is this just your wish? In other words, is this a case of “I think it’d be really great for you if you let me sleep with other people.”

If you know she is genuinely open-minded like you and willing to explore the possibility of a non-monogamous marriage, lucky you — skip to the asterisk below.* But if you harbor any doubts that suggesting such a seismic change in the status of your relationship will be met with nothing but excitement and gratitude, then you’ve got to tread carefully.

In our society, marital monogamy is still the gold standard. For many people, the idea of their partner having sexual interludes with anyone other than themselves, even if they were to be permitted their own trysts, would be a source of great jealousy, stress and anxiety, sparking questions of self worth and — not to put too fine a point on it — the nature of one’s own reality. For example:

“Is our relationship not as strong as I thought?”

“Does my partner not love me anymore?”

“Is my partner not the person I always thought they were?”

When you broach this topic, start slowly, cautiously. Feel her out. Don’t just suddenly exclaim, “I want to open up our marriage so we can see other people.” Instead, ask her about her fantasies, if she ever thinks about other people.  Gauge her response. Reassure her you won’t be hurt by her natural curiosity about others. Maybe mention something you saw on TV that made you wonder if she’s ever thought about it. Frame it first as a possibility for her, not you. And be sure you make clear that the answer to the above three questions — even if they’re not explicitly asked by her — is a resounding “No.”

If she’s initially offended or outraged, it may just be a matter of having more discussions about it over time. Though, if she’s decidedly, constitutionally against it, that nagging could gradually erode her trust and good will. You’ll have to entertain the possibility that this just ain’t her thang. It takes a particular kind of evolved psyche (and a lack of the jealousy gene) not only to try open relationships, but to make them work long-term.  If she’s not one of these rarified creatures, then you’ll have to decide if you can live happily without extracurricular flings or if you’ll have to end things — because cheating is not a viable, ethical option.

*On the other hand, if she’s open to at least considering it, then here are some great books to start with. They’ll introduce you two to positive polyamorous philosophies and give you practical tips for opening things up conscientiously. (All descriptive text is from Amazon.)

A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures
by Janet W. Hardy

For anyone who has ever dreamed of love, sex, and companionship beyond the limits of traditional monogamy, this groundbreaking guide navigates the infinite possibilities that open relationships can offer. Experienced ethical sluts Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle–from self-reflection and honest communication to practicing safe sex and raising a family. Individuals and their partners will learn how to discuss and honor boundaries, resolve conflicts, and to define relationships on their own terms.


A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships

by Tristan Taormino

Relationship expert and bestselling author Tristan Taormino offers a bold new strategy for creating loving, lasting relationships. Drawing on in-depth interviews with over a hundred women and men, Opening Up explores the real-life benefits and challenges of all styles of open relationships ― from partnered non-monogamy to solo polyamory. With her refreshingly down-to-earth style and sharp wit, Taormino offers solutions for making an open relationship work, including tips on dealing with jealousy, negotiating boundaries, finding community, parenting and time management. Opening Up will change the way you think about intimacy.


Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage
by Jenny Block

Finally, a book about open marriage that grapples with the problems surrounding monogamy and fidelity in an honest, heartfelt, and non-fringe manner. Jenny Block is your average girl next door, a suburban wife and mother for whom married life never felt quite right. While many books on this topic presuppose that the reader is ready to embrace an “alternative lifestyle,” Block operates from the assumption that most couples who are curious about or engaged in open marriages are in fact more like her — normal people who question whether monogamy is right for them; good people who love their spouses but want variation; capable parents who are not deviant just because they choose to be honest about their desires. Open challenges our notions of what traditional marriage looks like, and presents one woman’s journey down an uncertain path that ultimately proves open marriage is a viable option for her and others.


For a quicker start:
The 8 Do’s & Don’ts of Open Relationships


  1. A thoughtful post and spot on suggestions for resources.

    I wish I’d read this 12 years ago when struggling in my marriage and depressed. My wife’s reaction was exactly as discussed in your 3 points. The agreement for me to explore wasn’t really wholehearted and resulted in a powerful after-reaction and separation, divorce and ruined friendship after 25 years. I wished we’d had more experience and training to bring up and discuss contentious issues and sort them out respectfully.

    One additional book that my new poly partner suggested was “How to be a couple and still be free” by Tina B. Tessina.

  2. Three warnings, which the tone of your letter make especially relevant:
    1. Are you trying to justify an affair you’re already having? Don’t do that! Admit to the affair, try to understand why you had/are having the affair, get your marriage fixed, and only then–depending on how the fixing went–consider opening up.
    2. Are you imagining all the wonderful sex you’ll have once you have a hall pass? Bad news, fella: the one thing in the world for which there is an oversupply is dick. If it turns out your wife is actually interested in opening up, she is going to be the popular one.
    3. Do you think you can “encourage” your wife into opening up? Unless the two of you have been flirting with idea for a while, you’re more likely to be sleeping in the guest room than in some hotty’s apartment.

    Listen to Em&Lo. A man in your position is as likely to successfully open his relationship as he is to find hair on a millennial’s happy bits. If your marriage is unhappy fix it or end it; don’t think opening it will solve anything.

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