He is fragile and threatened. If I guess something about him out loud, he plays dodgeball with me. He will crack jokes and get very concrete. He is so defended, that guessing is the really the only enactment I can do with him.
Hear your assessment of him. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps he is fragile and threatened. Perhaps he feels attacked by you. Perhaps the adherence to concreteness and the jokes are ways he protects himself from you.
Actually, I feel attacked.
You name guessing as an enactment you are doing. When you put the attention on him like that, think of the two of you as re-enacting some scene from his childhood. He perceives you as the perpetrator and himself as the victim. He experiences you as attempting to humiliate him or make him bad. At some level he says, “Oh no, I’m not being the victim here. I’d rather be the perpetrator, thank you. You be the victim.”
That sounds so right on.
So even though you do not perceive it as attacking him when you ask questions or notice underlying meaning, he does. And when he feels attacked, he attacks you. So, to use his definition of the word, “attack” less. Work more indirectly. Share, guess, wonder, and tell stories. Keep your attention on his responses but do not put the verbal attention back on him each time. In your language as well as in your heart, take responsibility for everything that comes out of your brain.
“I notice that you… My guess is… What is your response to that?” becomes, “As you talk, I notice my internal response is… and now I find myself wondering if … ” (No waiting for a response or expectant looks.)