Cause and Effect Separated by Time
If you get a dog that was abused by its former owner, it will cower when you raise your voice or your arm, even if you never, ever strike it. It will do this for a very long time, maybe the rest of its life.
While we are far more self-aware and intelligent than dogs, we have the same basic instinct to avoid harm, be it physical, mental, or emotional. This means we react to certain things because in the past those things were indications we were about to be hurt, neglected, or rejected. God actually made us this way to protect us from harm.
Back to our dog – what if you were the one who abused it in the past? How much longer would it be before the dog stipped fearing you?
The same thing applies to your wife. If she has been hurt in the past, she is hypersensitive to being hurt in the same way again. This is especially true in areas where you have hurt her, but it also plays out in places where you have not hurt her. If you take it personally, if you get angry or sulk, you just reinforce in her mind that you’re not safe, that you will hurt her in some way.
Whether you hurt her or not, she is injured in certain areas. Love her despite her injuries and give her plenty of grace. If you don’t add to her injury she will react less and less negatively in the situations where she was once hurt.
By the way – this same principle applies in areas where you have failed her, especially if the failures were often or large. Even if she believes you’ve changed, her internal safety mechanisms are going to react to protect her. Yes, she needs to fight that, but she can’t turn off the reaction no matter how much she wants to.