Sexual intimacy, as God created and desires for marriage, requires vulnerability. Most women understand that sex requires vulnerability, since our bodies are literally invaded by another person's body part. However, I believe that vulnerability is an issue for men as well.
To give yourself intimately to your spouse, you must lower your defenses, get naked, allow someone to touch and kiss the most private parts of your body, and join yourself physically to another. There is an emotional and spiritual unveiling of yourself in all of this too.
As an analogy, let's think about stage fright. To perform for an audience, you have to feel comfortable that you have something to say or can actually sing or whatever; you must feel okay about yourself. You must also feel that you have some possibility of connecting with your audience; you must feel okay about them.
But what if you knew going out there that the entire crowd would shout insults and boo? Would you take a single step onto the stage? Would you pick up the microphone? Would you feel like saying one word or singing one note? Would you more likely think “Forget It” and pass up the chance to have a shining moment to express your self to others?
It is so much more vulnerable to engage sexually with someone you love than to say a five-minute speech or sing a two-minute song to people you don't know. But what if your spouse criticizes, belittles, and generally boos you in every other area of life? What if their criticism extends even into the bedroom, as they comment about your looks or feelings or expectations?
What if when you try to discuss how you feel about your sex life, you are greeted with indifference or insults? What if your heartfelt feelings are dismissed with “You shouldn't feel like that”? (One of the worst things to say to someone in my opinion.) How can you be vulnerable with someone who is cruel or abusive?
Marriage expert Gary Smalley and his team have done extensive research into the importance of creating a safe environment within marriage so that love can flourish. If a spouse does not feel safe, he or she will not communicate freely, give trust, and participate fully in the relationship. Why share your thoughts or feelings when you know they will be shot down, as they have been repeatedly in the past?
Is there anyway to get past this? How can you follow God's command to engage sexually with your spouse when it feels like your marriage or your bedroom is a mine field?
I have some background in psychology, but I am not a therapist.
I have worked in ministry, but I am not a minister.
I have gone faithfully for annual check-ups, but I am not a doctor.
Here's my two cents anyway:
Ask how bad the mistreatment is. Does it rise to the level of abuse? Do you feel mistreated because your expectations are simply not being met? Or are you a moving target in your own home? Is it “He doesn't appreciate me like he should” or “He tells me I'm stupid, ugly, and worthless several times a day”?
If you are not sure, get wise counsel to make a determination. Your close friends are probably not the most objective people to ask. Talk to a doctor, a minister, a therapist.
Pray for wisdom. If you are in a terrible situation, go to God. You may even be angry at Him right now for what you're going through, wondering why He won't intervene and stop it. However, God has promised to be with you through the horrible times (Isaiah 43:1-2, Matthew 28:20). Jesus knows what it is like to be cruelly treated and can relate to hardship. Continue to bring your concerns and sorrows to the Lord and ask for His help to sort through your feelings and your options.
Talk to your spouse. If you have not approached the subject, do so. If you have done so before and believe you can bring it up again without reprisal, try again. However, if your environment is unsafe and you simply cannot talk to your spouse, don't. Your physical safety must be assured to experience emotional and sexual vulnerability.
Seek help. If you are in an abusive marriage, you are not the wife or husband we are talking to when Christian marriage authors encourage more vulnerability, frequency, or playfulness in the bedroom. You need outside help to get clarity, establish proper boundaries, and get your life back on track. Speak with your minister or a counselor in confidence and let them know what's going on. Ask for resources. Seek out Christians who will support you as you try to deal with a marriage that has gone down the wrong road.
I hope my two cents helps, but as I have stated, I am not an expert. Thankfully, there are great resources out there for those in need. Seek them out.
God desires that you, His beautiful child, be treated with gentleness, respect, and love. Remember your worth.