Fragile ego & criticism

I know a few people have mentioned their partner's inability to take criticism. My husband is the first person who I ever actually saw embody the phrase "and his face fell." What caused it? His mom was talking to him. He came in to show her something. I think it was something funny he found about his socks or something weird. Utterly not of consequence. He told her not to interrupt because she was in the middle of talking to me. She'd be done in a second and then he could talk.

Then, face fell. And he mutterd, "Never mind." And walked away. I had to actually call him back and remind him she hadn't said no. Just "wait a second."

This is such an exhausting thing, isn't it? I get part of the reason they're so sensitive to criticism -- they've spent their lives being criticized. So when those they care about most do it, it's sort of "Not you too!" and a huge betrayal. But, as I keep telling Tim, it results in a form of emotional blackmail. I can't be unhappy with an aspect of our life together or I have to first prop him up emotionally just so we can talk about it.

And how much fun is it when you're trying to find a compromise and the partner just does the complete surrender thing? Then I have to stop, tell him to knock it off and that I'm not looking for absolute agreement. I just want to find some middle ground.

One way we've dealt with this is to sandwich something negative between two compliments. This was very hard for me to do. I grew up in a family where only negative was dwelt on. Positive was more or less expected of you. So I felt really annoyed that I had to essentially butter him up just to get him to see something that was wrong.

Over time, that sort of faded out. I'm not really sure why. I guess it's something I can try to start again. But lately my approach has been to just take responsibility and take pressure off. Not in the sense that I take the blame. But that I acknowledge my role in things while asking him to work on them too. Not fix them, work on them. The other day, he ran my bras through the dryer. So I told him that it wasn't a big deal this time, and it was partially my fault for forgetting to remind him that I want these new bras to line dry. But it was something I hoped he'd try to remember in the future. He still got sad and apologized quietly. And I had to rush to assure him that it wasn't a huge deal this time. (Though I just found out that the one of the underwires has now fallen out of one of the bras. so it sort of is. But I didn't remind him so...)

Anyone have any other solutions to this recurring problem? I can't bear to see him look so miserable and self-effacing. But I can't keep it all bottled up, either. Then it explodes in a flood of recrimination for things he can't undo in the far past (for him it's far anyway). That doesn't help either of us.