The song was first released as a single in June 1980 and became the band's first chart hit, reaching number 13 in the UK Singles Chart. That October, "Love Will Tear Us Apart" peaked at number 42 on the Billboard disco chart. It also reached number 1 in New Zealand in June 1981. In 1980, the track was named NME Single of the Year. The band postponed their US tour after Curtis' death, performed a few short sets as The No-Names, then finally renamed the group as New Order. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was re-released in 1983 and reached number 19 on the UK charts and re-appeared at number 3 in New Zealand during March 1984. In 1985, the 7" single was released in Poland by Tonpress in different sleeve under license from Factory and sold over 20,000 copies. In November 1988, it made one more Top 40 appearance in New Zealand, peaking at number 39. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" appears on the Substance compilation album. It was first recorded for a John Peel session in November 1979, then re-recorded in January 1980 and March 1980. It is the latter version that appears on Substance. The January 1980 version, which has since become known as the "Pennine version", originally appeared as one of the single's B-sides.
In 1995, to publicise the release of Permanent, the track was reissued, complete with a new remix by Arthur Baker and a new radio edit, also known as the "Permanent Mix". On 24 September 2007, the single was again reissued, in its original configuration. This time, it was to publicise the Collector's Edition re-issues of the band's three albums. Although the single was now issued on the Warner label, it retained the classic Factory packaging, including the FAC 23 catalogue number.
The song was originally recorded at Pennine Studios, Oldham on 8 January 1980 along with the B-side, "These Days". This version was similar to the version the band played live. Ian Curtis and Martin Hannett, however, disliked this version, which has since become known as the "Pennine version", and, as a consequence, the band reconvened at Strawberry Studios, Stockport in March to re-record it. Whilst Curtis, who generally did not play guitar at all, played guitar on the song live – the band taught him D major specifically – the guitar on the recording was a 12-string Eko guitar played by Sumner. Sumner recalls:
Ian didn't really want to play guitar, but for some reason we wanted him to play it. I can't remember the reason now ... I think Ian used to play only on "Love Will Tear Us Apart" ... no I'm wrong, there was another track too. Maybe "Heart and Soul"? I do remember Ian used to play just one chord, which was D. We showed him how to play D and we wrote a song. I wonder if that's why we wrote "Love Will Tear Us Apart", you could drone a D through it. I think he played it live because I was playing keyboards. On the record I played guitar, a twelve string Eko guitar, an Italian guitar that actually sounded pretty good.
Stephen Morris disliked the re-recorded version: