5 Psychologist-Approved Books to Read If You're Going Through a Breakup

Plus, the movie she calls "the best breakup movie of all time."

breakup book

2020 has come to be colloquially known as the “year of the breakup,” and its effects are still felt in 2021. Dating.com researched the significant “uptick” in its new signups and discovered that 67% of new users had recently experienced breakups; most of the newly-single respondents had been cohabitating with their partners. Divorce attorneys report similar-and global findings. British law firm Stewarts, for example, saw a 122% increase in divorce inquiries compared to 2019. These are significant numbers. 

Lockdown—and its consequential nonstop togetherness —likely left many couples feeling pressurized and disillusioned, eroding at foundations and uncovering uncomfortable truths about compatibility. While I have not been running any studies, I’ve anecdotally observed this pattern in my own work as well. 

If you’re anticipating a newly-single, still-stuck-inside Valentine’s Day this year, the numbers are on your side—many, many people are in similar situations. It is my professional opinion that the end of a romantic relationship is an opportunity for rebirth. In fact, I believe without exception that breakups are essentially equivalent to new beginnings and massive self-discovery. 

The first step is to stoke a least a little hope. When that is hard to do, there’s nothing wrong with looking to science, theory, or art for help. Here’s my psychotherapist-approved list of five books and one movie to cultivate a spirit of renewal: 

love hurts
Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken by Lodro Rinzler $13
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A millennial New Yorker with a passion for mindfulness (he has written six books on the subject, and opened the MNDFL studios in NYC), Rinzler organized this little book into small, digestible sections—perfect for the shrunken attention spans that grief can sometimes cause. If you’re looking for tidbit tips on how to ride the pain like a wave, this book can help. 

when things fall apart
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron $14
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This book is considered a classic in the intersecting worlds of Wellness, Meditation, and Trauma Recovery. Like our previous author, Chodron is a disciple of Buddhism; in fact, she has been studying and teaching the Tibetan subset of the practice since 1972. An incredibly poetic writer, Chodron makes reference to her own experiences with rejection and divorce throughout the text. The best part is, once you master some of the mindful techniques taught by both Love Hurts and When Things Fall Apart, you can apply them to all stressors in other aspects of your life. Learning about mindfulness is an opportunity to build a self-care skill set that has lateral application. 

tiny beautiful things
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed $13
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Have you ever read the sassy and insightful Dear Sugar column in The Rumpus? Turns out “Sugar” was Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of Wild (and one of the best essays on loss I’ve ever seen). (7) Her most shining responses to advice-seekers—philosophical, fun, and resonant—were collected into this sweet compilation. There are some great, relatable breakup scenarios in here. Strayed’s wisdom often comes off as a non-cheesy, penetrating pep-talk, great for reenergizing right when you’re starting to feel depleted. 

the art of breaking up
The Art of Breaking Up by hitRECord $20
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Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who starred in 500 Days of Summer, widely considered to be a great breakup movie) (9) established a “creative collaborative community,” which came together to anthologize visually-driven breakup insights by over 750,000 artists. It’s a colorful, collectivistic take on the universal, painful transition that too often leaves us feeling an illusion of aloneness. This book is a stimulating, inspiring experience. 

getting over a breakup
Getting Over a Breakup: 75 Easy Steps by Kate Anderson. $10
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This book breaks the breakup process down into simplified steps, which can be relieving to read in an emotional process that too-often feels muddled and messy. Though there’s an emphasis on expediency that seems a bit ambitious, the steps themselves are direct and wise. Anderson breaks the process down into three sections, with lots of helpful hacks within each one: “Lose Your Pain, Not Your Mind!” “Place the Focus on You,” and “Get Your Mind Off Your Breakup.” For a quick reference, this is a good go-to. 

Finally, the film: Swingers, (1996)

This is the best breakup movie of all-time. Following a heartbroken NYC-transplant and aspiring comedian in Los Angeles, the short-but-sweet narrative and witty dialogue contain all the wisdom explored in the titles above. Enjoy this magnificent monologue from Sex and the City’s post-it guy to get a sense of things, and then check out the movie itself.

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